Plunge into dreams at Volta NY 2016. The fair’s many dreamscapes coalesce into a unique opportunity to compare and contrast other worlds and inner visions. Nearly everyone on this planet — whatever their identity — has dreamed at night.
Volta’s artists are like the many-handed painter in Karine Rougier’s “Desordre en coulisses” (2016) at Galerie Dukan’s booth. They look to the surrealist landscapes of Salvador Dali and Yves Tanguy but then go in their own directions. The lion’s skin symbolizes their courage against the naysayers who might gripe that this subject has been played out and exhausted as a source. But the curious will quickly discover that the surrealists aren’t casting that long of a shadow anymore. There are new and fresh ways to picture dreamworlds for the 21st century in the spotlight at Volta this year.
We’ve all had more than one dream. So naturally, several artistic means succeed at transporting us to wonderland. Artists are landing on other planets, entranced with geometric psychedelia, imagining Arcadia on acid, summoning magical creatures, and divulging nightmares.
Volta artists create otherworldly landscapes that more closely resemble science fiction than a walk in the park.
A horse puppet wanders into a silver world and pauses before an ethereal flower in Tomoyasu Murata’s video art “Okinamai / Forest This Flower Bloom 翁舞 / 木ノ花ノ咲クヤ森” (2015). We are lucky that Gallery MoMo brought us this video art from Tokyo. Murata reimagines Bunraku puppets in a moonscape created with the latest computer animation techniques. Created in response to the Fukushima meltdowns, this work strives to express mujō (無常), which is often translated as impermanence in English. Dreams likewise don’t last. Don’t we all have that experience of waking up from the most wild experience we can’t remember 10 minutes later?
Marge Simpson explores an unearthly landscape in Chason Mattham‘s “When I Survey the glorious cross…” (2015). If the crescent moon wasn’t showing, it would read as Mars instead of Earth with all that red sand. Marge looks confused by the few flowers and phantom trees in this work at Thierry Goldberg Gallery‘s booth. Mattham once suggested that viewers look at his work as the “mind going into anxious overdrive trying to construct a narrative out of all the disparate information and random juxtapositions one is confronted with daily.” Aren’t dreams likewise the result of the mind stitching a quilt in overdrive out of the disparate images and experiences we encounter?
Volta artists created psychedelia with intricate geometric patterns, alluding to alternate universes.
Kristen Schiele explained to Hyperallergic that “I’m always in space or in a nightmare in my paintings.” If only all of us could dream in the glow of the blacklight in “TV People” (2016) at Kayrock Screenprinting‘s booth. This work beams us up into a supernal world dominated by purples, blues, and black.
Has technology changed the way we dream? Brenna Murphy draws from the latest imaging techniques to invent worlds of twisting forms with echoes of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican motifs at American Medium‘s booth. Murphy once remarked in an interview that, “I think developing technology relates to the structure of human consciousness no matter what.” Haven’t all of us at some point had a dream set in the future or about interacting with technology? New technologies seep into our subconscious. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are some special advantages to having a more networked mind. Murphy’s glyphic realm reveals today’s minds as unshackled from limited vertical logic, and shaped more by today’s interconnectedness and multidimensionality.
Tim Kent also invites viewers into a geometric world, influenced more by the grid, in “Inevitable Stranger” (2015). The competing shapes dwarf the small person at the edge of a pool of blue in the center of this painting at the Slag Gallery. At first, the work appears more subdued. But zooming in on separate parts of the painting in real life reveals all these wild little worlds within the painting, like a stellar field.
Arcadia on Acid
Volta artists twist idyllic Arcadian landscapes into hallucinogenic trips. If only we could pick the Instagram filter for our dreams, and make them look this cool. But that’s why we have … art.
Tomoko Takagi’s “Dwarf in Kamoeka” (2014) depicts a garden with gnomes and dwarves at ARTCOURT gallery’s booth. Granted, it’s highly abstracted but with some effort, the garden gnomes can be found. The artist explained in the press release, “that there are shapes, objects and colors that are missing is an important factor in my work.” The way the forms bleed into one another certainly leaves some shapes out but this horror vacui effect succeeds at transporting us into an alternate reality.
A man dreams as the landscape dissolves around him in Tom Anholt‘s “Jacob’s Journey – The Dream” (2015) at Galerie Mikael Andersen. It’s not Jacob from the Bible but a 16th-century ancestor of the artist who led his mistreated Jewish family through deserts and mountains on routes similar to today’s European refugees. The artist is envisioning the lives of his ancestors and his style reflects the messy beauty of the subconscious.
Volta artists anthropomorphize mythical creatures. It’s not Alice and Wonderland for adults. It’s thankfully less Victorian and more edgy and in-your-face for New York.
Kate Clarke transforms an antelope hide and horns into a magical creature with a human face. Sculptures like “Charmed” (2015) show that magical realism isn’t just for painters. These sculptures are part of the Something I Can Feel exhibition of emerging art curated by Derrick Adams.
Dryads are a rare and precious sight in contemporary art. Ronald Cyrille does justice to the tree nymph with a dose of humor in “Freedom” (2016) at the booth of Espace d’art contemporain 14°N 61°W. This was one of the funniest works at Volta. The dreamworld doesn’t always have to be such a serious place.
One of Cyrille’s favorite quotes is by poet Aimé Césaire, who played a major role in the négritude movement in Francophone literature. Césaire proclaimed, “We are sacred men. I am uninitiated, I am initiated by poetry, if you will, and I believe I am a sacred man.” The point here is that poetic and dream imagery can initiate us into a new understandings of ourselves. When we touch paper every day, spend most of our time in structures made from wood, and eat food nearly every day that came from a tree, we are far more connected to trees and like Dryads than our conscious minds might think.
Volta artists are unabashedly dark, conjuring the nightmare’s gravitas.
In Raquel Paiewonsky‘s “Shore” (2016), a palm tree catches on fire while half-naked female figures prostrate before cascading triangles. An ominous lair lurks in the distance with a large solar panel. It’s one of the most arresting works at the Yellow Peril Gallery booth. The artist once explained, “I am particularly interested in object / subject interventions, often utilizing fabric or collage as a means of taking over a particular space, body or artifact.” The subjugation of women’s bodies — which is a nightmare — is a recurring theme in Paiewonsky’s work. “Shore” is just the tip of the iceberg of this exciting Caribbean feminist.
Alfred Esquillo offers an enigmatic scene in “Slow Train Coming” (2016). There is a blood-red sky, a woman looking away with an umbrella, toppled columns, and smoke getting into a man’s face. This large triptych at the the booth of Osaka’s YOD gallery explores the Filipino concept of Loob. We may all have dreams, but we tend to have different culturally constructed ideas about their psychology. This tagalog word connotes an inner psychological world, which differs from our external experiences in the physical environment that surrounds us. Esquillo’s work is an invitation to ponder your own inner landscape, your own dreamworld, your own Loob.
The train ride from hell isn’t just for MTA riders. Aaron Zulpo allows us to spy on disconnected vignettes inside the compartments of a train in “A Mix Up of Briefcases” (2016) at Project: ARTspace’s booth. There is fire, corporeal mayhem, and some gravity-defying acrobatics. Zulpo has the chutzpah to reveal some strange trains of thought that can arise from just a mix-up of briefcases. These delightfully discombobulated vignettes are reminiscent of a dream sequence.
“We are not all Dali — we are not all melting,” Zulpo explained to Hyperallergic. For too long, European surrealism has dominated and limited how artists depict dreams. Volta NY 2016 offers an amazing opportunity to encounter new takes of the unconscious and dreamworlds for the 21st century.
Volta NY continues at Pier 90 (West 50th Street at Twelfth Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan) through March 6.