Athena LaTocha is known for enormous abstract drawings whose incorporation of natural materials from nearby sites evokes terrain, as in her use of red earth for an exhibition at Santa Fe’s IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. Yet none of her drawings have been quite so large or stony as the centerpiece of In the Wake of… (2021) at BRIC Arts. The 55-by-17-foot drawing theatrically occupies an entire wall of the Downtown Brooklyn arts organization’s sunken main gallery, accompanied by a soundscape composed of found urban noises. The drawing’s mottled grays and tans — rough-hewn splotches of shellac, earth from Green-Wood Cemetery, and demolition debris, as well as craggy lead casts of outcroppings — are geologic in texture, color, and scale. Standing next to the artwork creates the sense of being dwarfed by a canyon wall or encountering an exposed cross-section of earth beneath the city sidewalk that’s just outside the gallery’s overhead, street-level windows.
In the Wake of…’s geologic mood invokes a sense of deep time within an urban neighborhood that has undergone considerable transformation in recent decades. Some of those changes are visible through the gallery windows, with the jibs of several cranes poking up like giraffe necks from a nearby construction site, and newly and half-built glass high rises towering beyond them. The artist’s drawing takes the long view on civic turnover, abstracting its material traces into flinty streaks and scrapes that evoke a sedimentary record. While the idiom “in the wake of” typically refers to the immediate aftermath of a specific event, LaTocha is more interested in the distant aftermath of a confluence of events, the point at which history’s tail has gotten so long you can’t easily trace effects back to causes.
Yet her compositional methods suggest that historical amnesia, while inevitable at geological time scales, nonetheless involves human agency at civilizational ones. In video footage of the artist’s studio process for the show, LaTocha uses dropper bottles, buckets, and brooms to mix together and apply an array of inky and earthen solutions to the gargantuan paper laid out on the floor. The resultant palimpsest of blurred and blended materials hints at the capacity humans have to hasten or delay processes of disappearance and forgetting, to obscure or maintain the cultural record. Such remixing distinguishes her drawings from art historical counterparts — for instance, Michelle Stuart’s earth rubbings; Betsy Damon’s cast of a dry riverbed, The Memory of Clean Water (1985) — that might seem similar in subject, materials, or visual effect but that possess a more direct, one-to-one mimetic relation to their referents.
The most direct representations in In the Wake of… can be found in the eight-channel sound piece, a projection of individual construction and subway noises, and in the lead casts affixed to the drawing like oversized band-aids. Both installation elements are realistic in their own right yet, in context, function as part of an unmistakably fictional composite. In the Wake of… calls attention to the vestiges of its own fabrication, from the gridded fold marks visible in its drawing paper to its reduction of the urban soundscape into isolated rumbles and drones. Like the sedimentary records they evoke, LaTocha’s drawings are a beguiling mix of intent and accident, specificity and abstraction, human reminders of inhuman oblivion.
Athena LaTocha: In the Wake of… continues at BRIC Arts (647 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY) until January 9, 2022.
Special Edition: 🖌️Artists’ Signatures ✍️
In this special edition, we investigate what artists’ signatures actually mean, and the fascinating results reveal the multifaceted history of this curious phenomenon.
What Is a Signature in the Internet Age?
As a cryptographic unit for record-keeping, an NFT can be seen as analogous to a signature or an autograph.
The Public Theater Explores the Hurricane Katrina Diaspora in shadow/land
Written by Erika Dickerson-Despenza and directed by Candis C. Jones, this lyrical meditation on legacy, erotic fugitivity, and self-determination is on view in NYC.
The Meaning of Ancient Greek and Roman Artisan Signatures
What did a signature mean in the ancient world, and how much can we trust what they seem to tell us?
Michelangelo’s Signature and the Myth of Genius
Michelangelo served as a stellar example for future artists who sought status and economic independence.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
Uncovering the Photographer Behind Arshile Gorky’s Most Famous Painting
As we pursue photographer Hovhannes Avedaghayan a fascinating picture begins to emerge of him and the world of which he was part.
100 Years of Artist Signatures in a Detroit Club
The beams in Detroit’s Scarab Club act as a guest book of sorts, carrying a wealth of stories and history, including signatures by Diego Rivera, Marcel Duchamp, Margaret Bourke-White, Isamu Noguchi, and others.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
The Myth of Agency Around Artists’ Signatures
In an art world built on shifting sands, artists’ signatures become symbols of agency for some, and relics of the past for others.
The Women Artists Commemorated on an NYC Sidewalk
The signatures of Rosa Bonheur, Mary Cassatt, and six other historical women artists are engraved on a small stretch of sidewalk on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
Met Museum Repatriates 15 Objects to India
The sculptures were all at one point sold by the disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor.
Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova Placed on Russian “Wanted” List
Tolokonnikova has long been a thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin’s regime.