On occasion, we pause long enough to watch the clouds shifting above. Meanwhile, always moving, infinitesimally slowly most of the time, we are generally unaware of the ground moving beneath our feet, as it floats upon the core of our planet.
Our awareness of clouds and land are at times shocked into place by sudden unexpected bursts, storms, tremors and other changes. With vibrant color palettes paired with satellite source imagery of locations both local and international, Vitug ponders both gradual and catastrophic shifts of land and cloud in his exhibit Terra Infirma on display at Left of Center Gallery.
Satellite imagery offers a visual reference allowing for the simultaneous view of the hazy cotton of the stratosphere compacted on top of landmasses below. Oozy tracks of bright paint, slightly gelled but still liquid enough to move, begin to slip as the artist turns a panel on its side, during the painting process, forcing the colored liquid landscapes to slowly slip downwards, mimicking the slow shift of tectonic plates inside the earth or the hazy shift of the atmosphere circling above.
A palette of thermal imaging red, green and blue drips down in a thick gloppy global map. A glaring red and yellow panel relays the devastation of Tacloban after typhoon Haiyan; the color alluding to the suffering and pain caused by the event while the aerial view distances itself from the suffering with computer generated map neutrality.
A triptych, verging on topographical, portrays Lake Mead including the surrounding mountains and populated Las Vegas Valley. Dripping blues, violets and greens of a landscape called “To Be Titled Nevada Nuclear Test Site” posits future geography, the dripping paint morphing the cartography beyond recognizability. Similarly a round panel, titled “Las Vegas Strip,” warps a satellite night shot of the city into creamy gold taffy.
By using a slow dripping technique and including the phrase “To Be” in the title of many of the works, inferring a future tense, Vitug suggests the state of flux of the earth with changes occurring both naturally or induced by humankind such as those happening in nuclear test sites. However, inherently flawed as a medium to capture flux and motion, the moment the paint is dry, the work cease to be in flux and becomes a frozen record of change. If only it were possible for the paint to stay in motion, never drying, ever-creeping, then these works could truly enact the desired concept.
Perhaps arriving closer to the mark than the painted works is an installation created from Vitug’s performance in the exhibit titled “The Inhabitants View.” Occupying most of the floor in a rear gallery room, the piece is a curvy island dotted with small hills, composed of soil and salt along with a pair of fertility dolls, preceding as Adam and Eve, placed in the center for inhabitants. The shifting island of loose soil perfectly distills the concept of geographical flux. The arbitrary curved form it assumes now would be different if scooped up and presented again; it has no true stable form.
For the performance, Vitug poured trails of salt onto the soil creating arbitrary geographical borders and highways demonstrating our haphazard net of interaction with land we encounter and occupy. The use of salt also has powerful Biblical connotations invoking the well-known phrase “You are the salt of the earth.” But less well known is the darker segment that follows discussing salt becoming tasteless: “How can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”
Scribing copious lines upon the earth, is humanity just so much excessive “salt” waiting to be trampled and re-digested back into the planet’s crust? Finally participants were given sticks of incense and allowed to insert them into the soil, enacting a spiritual claim upon the fictional landmass. Visitors were circled around the island, like a group of deities making bids upon small patches of earth. Whether deeds and legal documents, or twigs of incense, any claims we have upon the surfaces of this planet are ultimately as temporary as that small island of dirt.
Looking at the big picture of our world, captured in slowly shifting satellite photos, our presence here seems all the more fleeting. The work “To be titled Afghanistan” displays a melting red and blue-green approximation of the Middle East. The struggle of this and other regions resulting from contested borders drawn upon the ground by humanity are underscored by the reality of slowly shifting geography.
Through March 29, www.leftofcenterart.org, Left of Center Gallery, 2207 W. Gowan Road.