Luis de Jesus: Antonia Wright Invites Viewers to Take a Plunge
By Genie Davis
Through February 11th
Now at Luis de Jesus through February 11th, Antonia Wright’s compelling exhibition Under the water with sand, rocks, miles of rocks, then fire is both fascinating and haunting. It is a work that one can simply not look away from, and yet viewers may long not to see what they have seen.
Wright, a Florida-based multi-media artist created the beautiful but harrowing installation that was originally shown at Locust Projects in Miami. This is a sensorial exhibition that features experimental jazz, activated lighting effects, and even the scent of a fecund forest.
Not having seen the original exhibition it is hard to imagine the work in any other space but Luis de Jesus. Here, suspended plants are hung from the ceiling, the work of composer and bassist Jason Ajemian sets a tone of strange travels, an eerie, creaking foreshadowing of the event Wright’s video presents. Sculptural light and the mystery of darkness visually draw the viewer in deeper and deeper to the video screen.
Wright’s video is of course the centerpiece of the installation, a riveting, terrifying-yet-awesome re-enactment of an accident Wright experienced as a teen walking across a frozen reservoir in Boston. The walk had an unexpected out come: she fell into icy waters when the ice cracked beneath her. The experience led her to contemplate death, even as she fought her way to the surface at the water’s edge. Suffering from hypothermia, she nonetheless managed to keep the experience to herself to avoid getting in trouble with her parents. The secrecy, the fear, and what was perhaps the exhilaration of survival are all foremost in her recreation of the event.
Here, filmed, Wright is clad in a voluminous, flowing red and orange outfit – beneath which she wore a wet suit – as she walks across Vermont’s frozen Lake Champlain. The artist’s attire is a raw silk suit which she has said was inspired by the the golden flames depicted in William Turner’s classic “The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons.”
Thus clad, Wright makes a surreal figure; a visual equivalent of fire plunged into the icy depths – but her flame is not extinguished. Viewers are invited by Wright to experience their own physical reaction, through sound, smell, and sight, she electrifies and accelerates viewers’ senses, making the heart hammer with tension.
There is something both triumphant and appalling in the literal fact that Wright’s warmth, her life form if you will, was nearly extinguished at a young age, and that she had the courage and restlessness to repeat the experience and share it. Figuratively at least, viewers take the plunge with Wright and have both a sensorial and emotional moment with the artist.
Wright, who once wanted to be a writer, is a visual poet, her work a stunning and surreal metaphor for life and death, for spirit and body.
Wright is no stranger to art that strains her body and subsumes viewers. She has previously covered herself with some 15,000 bees, and thrown herself, vulnerably naked, through breakaway glass. Her filmed performances deal to a large extent with images offer a somewhat violent catharsis to the viewer, as well as, perhaps, to the artist.
In the case of Under the water with sand, rocks, miles of rocks, then fire, Wright’s filmed performance was made considerably safer than her original accident: she was accompanied by a team of professional divers.
Viewers have no such safety net in place emotionally. Prepare to take the plunge into the depths of an experience that will alter and exhilarate. This is memorable art.
Luis de Jesus is located at 2685 S. La Cienega in Los Angeles.