Peace on Earth at the MOAH

Samuelle Richardson “Ghost Dogs”
Samuelle Richardson, Ghost Dogs, Peace on Earth, MOAH Lancaster; Photo credit Betty Brown

Peace on Earth at MOAH

through April 21
MOAH, Lancaster

Written by Betty Brown
Peace on Earth
, deftly curated by Andi Campognone, features the work of thirty extraordinary artists: Bobbie Moline-Kramer, Catherine Coan, Chie Hitotsuyama, Clayton Campbell, Cynthia Minet, David Adey, Debbie Korbel, Devin Thor, Emily Ding, Emily Maddigan, James Griffith, Jane Fisher, Jen Meyer, Kim Kimbro, Laura Larson, Laurence Vallières, Laurie Hassold, Laurie Sumiye, Lori Michelon, Lori Pond, Luke Matjas, Margo Ray, Matthew Floriani, Nancy Evans, Robb Putnam, Samuelle Richardson, Scott Yoell, Simone Gad, Spenser Little, Stephen O’Donnell, Tami Bahat and Zachary Mendoza. All of them explore the human/animal interface, especially how that symbiotic relationship has been affected by the nightmare of climate change. Although there are many examples of more traditional fine art materials (oil and/or acrylic paintings on canvas, bronze sculptures, “straight” photography), others range over eccentric material territory, from tar to animal bones, neon to plastic to interactive technology.

No single review could do justice to all of the fine artworks; only a few of the stand-outs will be discussed here.

When viewers enter the museum, they are met by a large installation that looks, at first, like a domestic interior from the Victorian era. Closer attention reveals that all is not well in this constructed home. A stuffed deer head eerily emerges from elegant jacquard wallpaper, decorative string draped around its antlers. A wild boar rages over the dining table, toppling glasses and crushing plates. Artist Catherine Coan may have titled her installation “Mmm. It Does Go Well with the Chicken,” but all is not well in this depiction of the taxidermy-preserved trophies of a society that embraced the fallacy of man over nature, and articulated this belief in ritualized hunting parties and imperialist safaris.

In the main gallery hangs Robb Putnam’s fabric bear Sojourner, threads dangling from his rag-sewn body in an earnest imitation of shaggy fur. The bear returns the viewer’s gaze with a melancholy, almost whimsical expression. This is not the threatening bear of Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Revenant” (2015). It is a battered Smokey, stripped of his forest ranger uniform and humbly beseeching us to care about his environment.

Catherine Conan “Mmm. It Does Go Well with the Chicken”
Catherine Conan, Mmm. It Does Go Well with the Chicken, Peace on Earth, MOAH Lancaster; Photo credit Betty Brown

Formally similar to Putnam’s bear but emotionally distinct, are Samuelle Richardson’s Ghost Dogs. Five dogs balance on spindly wooden legs, their sharp white teeth (also wood) exposed in silent growls. The canine bodies are stuffed fabric, carefully sewn into black patches and irregular brown spots. The dogs gather below clusters of dried branches evoking strangely desiccated clouds, their world empty of water or hope.

At the top of the stairs, Laurie Sumiye has created a forest view that recalls Japanese screens especially in its use of gold leaf for leaves, black ink for bark, and undulating parallel lines to represent flowing water. Viewers are given computer pads with which to scan the painted mural and, as they do so, “hot spots” open to reveal videos of a forest panorama, of leaves growing, or of birds landing on branches, then flying away. Sumiye’s elegant work reminds us that nature still holds secrets, even as our dependence on fossil fuels assaults its very existence.

Fossil fuels are, indirectly, referenced in James Griffith’s Corpus Colossus, a large canvas painting done in tar. Griffith begins with loaded brushes creating three interlocking spirals that recall the zen circles of sumi-e ink painting. He adds more tar to block out certain areas, then describes animal forms with his brush (rabbits, deer, bees), later using a pointed instrument to scrape away minute details to achieve a stunning realism. The artist’s use of tar reminds us of all the prehistoric animals whose bodies were transformed by the asphalt into areas like the La Brea tar pits. Are our rabbits and deer and bees going the way of lost species like the dinosaurs? Have we engendered more mass extinctions?

Not all of the artworks signal loss. Simone Gad’s series of drawings depicts rescue animals: dogs whose lives are saved through adoption. Cynthis Minet’s brilliant plastic birds make recycling plastic an appealing aesthetic practice. And Bobbie Moline-Kramer’s paintings of cultural myths, such as the Aztec belief in the rabbit on the face of the moon, or the Lascaux-like stag in her Golden Forest, remind us of the happy magic in stories that recognize the power of animals to lead and heal us. Indeed, the artworks next to Moline-Kramer’s are a series of small bronze sculptures of monk-like figures with animal heads created by Laura Larson. Inspired by medieval sculptures of mourners, Larson’s hybrid figures articulate our human oneness with nature.

When asked about the relationship between his work and nature, Jackson Pollock famously replied, “I am nature.” In that regard, he was speaking for all of us. We are all one with nature. Hurting her hurts ourselves. Peace on Earth brings that truth home with visual and conceptual power.

MOAH
665 W. Lancaster BLVD, Lancaster

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