Cathy Akers: A Utopia for Some: Morningstar and Wheeler’s Ranches Reconsidered
through March 28th
Pitzer College Art Galleries, Claremont
By: Sydney Walters
In her exhibit A Utopia for Some: Morningstar and Wheeler’s Ranches Reconsidered, Cathy Akers probes into the psyche of utopia and the consequences of unconventional living.
Upon entrance, a woodsy fragrance and the sound of chirping birds mimics the experience of entering a lush forest. Ceramic vessels are displayed on top of raw wood pedestals scattered like chopped trees. Behind these jars is a large painting of the historical timelines of Morningstar Ranch and Wheeler’s Ranch. Beginning in 1962, Akers marks significant dates corresponding to each ranch and embellishes some of dates with thoughtful portraits of key members. A video montage plays in an adjoining room of portraits taken of people at the respective ranches. Witnessing the characters within the context of rugged woodland, Akers portraits become infused and thus animated with history.
The vessels on top of the wood pedestals are gestures of vases. Their folding organic shapes render them useless as a utilitarian vase. Rather, these are vessels of narrative. The illustrations shape shift along the contortions of the vessel. On one piece, three naked women dance next to a leaning tree. The text meandering on a side panel describes a hunt for drugs: “Any time we got a hit of acid or two, we would split it up. The big kids (ten and older) could have half a hit and the little kids (five to seven) could only have a quarter hit.” A small line of text spirals along the bottom and describes a person leaving their party. The trail of text ends at a figure sitting naked and alone in the tree.
In another room, ceramic figures are frozen in floppy, free energy poses. They play instruments and smoke and the women breastfeed children. They are manipulated like pinch pots giving them a sketch-like quality. Their faces are flat and hand painted alluding to two- dimensional icons. On a shelf above the gathered figures are several jars meant to be handled. These jars are narratives that unfold as the holder rotates them in their hands. They are snippets of stories about adventure, birth and the wildness of nature.
Displayed on other shelves is The Hippie Trip, Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia and a 1967 Time Magazine all of which are bookmarked to sections referencing experimental communes. Akers supplies pillows in order to sit comfortably on the floor while indulging in first hand accounts of the Morningstar utopia.
Hanging on a wall is a network of leather strips and photo transfers onto ceramic pucks. It casts a striking shadow giving it the impression of a fence. The portraits on the ceramic pieces linked with the leather mimic the connective branches on a family tree. Yet because this work is structured into even rectangles rather than a splintering tree originating from a parental unit, it alludes to the village-like orientation. In her exploration of communes, Akers excavates a delicate webbing of intimacy and isolation.
A Utopia for Some closes at Pitzer College March 28th. A partnering exhibit is at Elephant Gallery until March 30th.