To get to Y Gallery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, you have to climb five long flights of rickety stairs. But if you make it up there in the next few days, you get to see Natural Resistance, which makes the effort worthwhile. The show features artists Shay Arick, Adriana Ciudad, and Tamara Kostianovsky, whose work coalesces around the idea of an “exoticized imaginary” of the rainforest, the press release claims. This seems like a flimsy rationale that doesn’t quite capture the art on view, but regardless, all of it is visually fascinating.
The artists originate from Israel (two of them, one with a childhood in Argentina) and Peru, and their varied perspectives meet at the intersection of environmental issues and cultural concerns, all perceived through non-US lenses. Kostianovsky is showing dead birds made of tattered clothing strips, upholstery fabric, wire, and string that remind me of the work of Chaim Soutine in their wildness. For example, “Turkey Vulture” (2015), a sculptural form hung from its feet, has a frantic texture that hints at some atavistic spirit that possessed the bird and has not been tamed by death. Meanwhile, the hippopotami in Cuidad’s “The weight of water. Dark waters, Hippo” (2016) seem to materialize out of the ground, almost white against blue and black waters. The piece appears to reference the environmental impact of an oil spill, but the press release tells me that the animals are not native to the region, having been introduced illegally during the 1980s and now presenting a consistent danger to people living along the Magdalena River in Colombia.
While these two artists specifically allude to animal life, Arick’s work feels shoe-horned into the putative theme because, more than anything else, it aestheticizes an instrument of implicit violence. His “Uprising Knives” (undated) consist of the blades of large knives attached perpendicular to the gallery wall; from them grow flower shapes incised out of the metal. Knives are built to cleave objects, but here they become a garden of metal blooms so carefully devised that I intuit thoughtfulness and compassion in their making — tools of separation transformed into symbols of natural, delicate beauty.
Arick’s work points to perhaps the better connecting thread here: all the work is clever in its manipulation of materials, not for its own sake but in service of crucial ideas about our relationship to our environment.
Natural Resistance continues at Y Gallery (319 Grand Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through July 2.