A chunk of rubble on a debris- and grime-crusted step — the remnants of a charred shoe. At least, that what the title supplied by photographer Christopher Tsouras tells us it is, and from there, the imagination kicks in, pondering the sordid details that culminated in a solitary shoe-cinder. When encountering vacant, ravaged or wild spaces, automatically we search for evidence of the life that is or was there. Instinctively, we’re drawn to imprints of civilization and the stories behind them.
Thick with silence, the landscapes of Post Rural, a group show at CSN, and Drone Series, by Tsouras at Winchester Cultural Center, explore these haunting human imprints and absences. Doleful whispers and startling premonitions hum within the surfaces.
The silence is chilling in the landscapes by Kevin Bell included in Post Rural. A nameless motel situated next to a clump of land quietly occupies a blank geometric plane. It’s unpeopled: no vehicles, no adverts for $2.99 pancake specials, no hustling travelers checking in — it’s as if, without notice, all moving beings were vaporized. The deafening silence sets in, leaving the structure standing as a curious monument.
Another silence is felt in the rolling black, turbid seas of Noah Wilson. The night ocean swells before a vague, lightless shore, the blackness of “Kachemak Bay, Alaska” undisturbed by the pricking lights of people. In the adjacent work, “Ohlson Mountain, Alaska,” a whiteout obscures all, white-limbed trees faintly visible through the snowy shroud. In both works, the potent wilderness suggests environments uninhabited, untouched, ambivalent to the lack of human presence.
At Winchester, Tsouras’ barren landscapes glow beneath a surveying, mechanical eye. The affect of a drone is a secondary layer of remove — emptiness cataloged by nonpresence, a distant eye peering through a lens, belonging to a pilot thousands of miles away. Emptiness absolute.
But “Charred Shoe,” and the letters and sprayed tags scrawled on a cement wall in “Euphrates North View,” betray a presence that was, or perhaps still is. It jabs at the nagging uncertainty that comes with military drones: With no one physically on site, is the camera verifying no life or just a fleeting moment of silence? How many aerial visits are needed to make decision before deploying missiles at strategic targets?
Burnishing the ground with gold and bronze leaf, Tsouras revels in the graveled, apocalyptic beauty of rough wastelands. The grayed prints and shining transparent images are patched with swatches of tape and tar onto rough, gessoed panels. It’s a patched-together slide show cobbled from materials suggestive of a post-catastrophic society.
Contemplating life after disaster invokes images of underground bunkers, deep caves and windowless life, where sky might become a memory. In Post Rural, Brad Allen’s “Offshore Landscape” portrays clouds cut into squares of wire mesh. The stitched black metals are a bleak, wistful token of the soft fluffies we’re accustomed to. Colors of sun, land and sea are chopped into precise pieces of kindling of various lengths by Matt Harmon. Campfire-stacked, the painted limbs of “Potomac MT” present a fractured landscape poised for a spark. Art destroyed for warmth in the absence of cultural needs? Or are the jumbled colored sticks a loosely assembled memory of land and sky?
Landscapes by Nicole Pietrantoni mix manmade and organics substances, such as lava and Styrofoam, forming diagrammatic archipelagos, analyzing and blurring the substances. Using two substances known for taking ages to degrade, the images hypothesize landmasses formed from organic and inorganic compounds — a human imprint of epic proportions, envisioning the toxic alchemy of a planet slowly grinding up vast amounts of waste.
A row of short, artificial fossil-like strips of bark by Edgar Smith continues the contemplation of human impact. Each strip is coated in slag; the byproduct of strip mining and refining ore marches along the wall like the relentless ticking of a clock, adding up the accumulated effects of industry upon the environment.
Or mightn’t the end come from accidental products of genetic or viral explorations, or simply evolution rising up to swallow humanity? “Swarm I & II” by Karina Hean depicts surging nests of abstractions — darkly beautiful, gossamer wounds ready to spawn a presence, a plague ending our quaint existence.
The human imprint stretches for thousands of years backwards in time; how far into the future remains to be seen.
DRONE SERIES Winchester Cultural Center, 3130 McLeod Drive, www.clarkcountynv.gov POST RURAL CSN Fine Arts Gallery, 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave., site.csn.edu/artgallery