"Commit to Memory: The Precipice of Extinction".
By David Menzies | The Jersey Journal
Friday marks the opening weekend of Eonta Space’s latest show, “Commit to Memory: The Precipice of Extinction,”a dual exhibition of the works of artists Cheryl Gross and Andrea McKenna.
The Eonta Space blurb for the show refers to what its team considers the initially starkly contrast of Gross’ “portrayal of animals lost to the Sixth Mass Extinction or on the brink of being lost, ...ablaze with color and movement, text and texture” with McKenna’s work, with its “driftwood, chain and wire hold portraits of wraiths or emanations swirling in deep, rich tones redolent of Renaissance tapestry.”
But there’s an art to contrasting the right subjects, and with work that contemplates a world on the brink of extinction next to work that evokes the mystery of what’s beyond life itself, Eonta Space is interesting territory for this show, which after the Friday opening will be on display until March 31.
Gross’ work for the show comes from a very specific mold, she said. “Well, it came about basically through the 2016 election,” Gross said in an interview with The Jersey Journal. “I have a partner, a creative partner, Nicelle Davis, and she’s a poet, and we do visual poetry. I animate her poems. I came up with (the theme of) extinction because I love animals, and we just started brainstorming – and she loves animals, as well – and we started equating extinction with the extinction of our democracy.” Gross read from the write-up of the collaboration with Davis, which in a 16-minute video animated by Gross and featuring Davis’ words, “addresses the eventual disappearance of our culture using animals as metaphors while exploring issues of global warming, displacement, assault, and poverty.”
Gross’s portrayal of these things via dying animals bursts in vibrant colors put on by a smooth hand. In images of McKenna’s work, it looks like she’s pulling figures from an ether – with the textured ripple effect giving the work its own 3D quality.
“Years ago, when I started applying texture, I wasn’t yet connecting with the meaning of my work,” McKenna said via email. “I was just experimenting with materials I was using as an interior decorative painter. As the intention began to surface, the texture became an integral part of what I was creating. You can see and also touch the figure being ripped apart from its mortal existence. Texture is a reminder of the once physical body that was three dimensional, now dissolving back into energy, which light can pass through.” The spirits that take shape in McKenna’s work are distinctly gray, and McKenna, who is the gallery curator for Art House Productions, said there’s a reason for that.
“The ocean is my influence here,” she said. “These spirits are coming from the ocean or they are going back to it. The deep sea is murky and gray, it goes black the farther you travel into it. It almost becomes another universe, as mysterious as death. Color evokes emotion and most of my work revolves around loss and death so I feel it makes sense. Blue hues are known to have a calming affect and I feel it produces a serene environment. It contrasts the anxiety that the prospect of death can bring on.”
Meanwhile, Gross’s work features beings whose hard lives, as crafted in Davis’ words, are the stuff of anxiety.
“She’s pretty graphic sometimes, and my job as her illustrator or as her collaborate is to make her work palatable so people can be entertained by the poetry but be touched by as it well, so that’s how this whole thing came about.”
There’s a distinct loss Gross spoke about also worth noting.
“When I first moved here, which was about 10 years ago, I lived in the Bergen-Lafayette section (Berry Hill), it was like ... call the cops, they wouldn’t come, and that’s okay … I get it,” said the native of Brooklyn. “But (now) I live in a loft, a nice building, good neighbors. I have a dog, I walk the dog around … What annoys me most is all the buildings, the skyscrapers, the condos and the luxury housing.”
In a blog she used to write, Gross, who acknowledges that she is something of a pioneer on the gentrification scale of what these buildings represent, said she referred to it as condo cancer. “When I first moved here, I (also) actually watched them build the Freedom Tower. I would get in my car in the mornings to go to work, and I’d drive down Grand Street, and it was just great. Each day you’d see a little more and a little more of the Freedom Tower. And then one day, I looked up and I couldn’t see it anymore, because almost overnight someone built this monstrosity that just blocked my view, so I was like ‘no!’ It was so special to watch it grow.”
That’s just one more ephemeral temporariness that viewers and art-buyers can contemplate in this show, opening Friday, Feb. 7, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m., at Eonta Space, 34 Dekalb Ave. (at the dead end off of Van Reypen Street), Jersey City.
Also check out more about these both these artists and Eonta Space at their respective websites: https://www.andreamckenna.com, and https://www.eontaspacenj.com.