This spring, Centro Botín art centre
in Santander, is presenting the first exhibition in Spain by the internationally acclaimed American artist Ellen Gallagher. Spanning two decades of the artist´s career, it includes paintings, works on paper as well as three film installations created in collaboration with Dutch artist Edgar Cleijne.
Gallagher (b.1965, Rhode Island) builds intricate, multi-layered works that pivot between the natural world, mythology and history. Through an immersive itinerary, the exhibition will explore issues of race, identity and transformation, with reference to themes such as Modernist abstraction and marine biology.
It proposes a dialogue with the Atlantic Ocean, whose waters are intrinsically, connected to Gallagher´s fluid aesthetics, her archaeological impulse to excavate subaquatic narratives of colonial violence and her ongoing fascination with processes of transformation of all life forms.
The exhibition includes a selection of Gallagher's glistening Black Paintings, a sequence of monochrome works begun in 1998 whose layered, keloid surfaces are suffused with the brute realities of colonial extraction. Through these works, the artist sets to convey how the psychotic state of race and ethnic relations is deeply rooted in the history of Western abstraction.
In her ongoing series of works on paper she started in 2001 entitled Watery Ecstatic, Gallagher creates a new natural history of complex biomorphic forms associated with Drexciya, a mythical underwater realm engaging with the afterlife of the Atlantic slave trade.
Completing the exhibition are three filmic installations produced together with Edgar Cleijne, with whom Gallagher has collaborated since 2004. This includes their most recent collaboration: Highway Gothic, an immersive meditation on the ecological and cultural implications of Interstate 10, which crosses the Mississippi Delta and skirts New Orleans. It is composed of 16mm film projections and cyanotype images printed on fabric and 70mm film stock.
Better Dimension is presented in the gallery space as an ad hoc viewing room whose external wooden panels are silkscreened texts and graphics based on broadsheets and pamphlets of the American illusionist Black Herman and the jazz musician Sun Ra. Inside, the combination of projected painted slides and a spinning bust of John F. Kennedys head suspended above a black vinyl LP reflects upon the notion of space, whether understood as a place to conquer or a realm of escape.
The third film installation, exhibited outside the exhibition hall, under the building and therefore in direct connection with the sea, is Osedax, a celluloid narrative centred on whale fall, a scientific term for cetacean carcasses that have descended to the abyssal zones, where they are consumed by scavengers; the title of the work, Osedax being a genus of bone-eating annelid worms.
The exhibition is curated by Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz, Centro Botíns Director of Exhibitions and the Collection, and Benjamin Weil, Director of the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkians centre for modern art.
On the show Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz commented: In the midst of our current racial and environmental crisis, Gallagher´s eco-political practice builds intricate threads with people of colour across time and space, while meditating on the consequence of the climate crisis in all beings. Elevated over the Cantabrian Sea (the coastal sea of the Atlantic Ocean that washes the northern coast of Spain) Centro Botín becomes a perfect stage for Gallagher´s exploration of the constant motion of matter and energy taking place in the deep ocean.
Gallagher and Cleijne will develop a workshop for international artists over the summer of 2022, including a participatory creation of cyanotypes - one of the oldest photographic printing processes which distinctive feature is its shade of cyan blue resulting from its exposure to ultraviolet light. Further details of the workshop will be announced in the coming months.
The exhibition is accompanied by a publication co-published with Mousse Publishing, with an essay by the British writer Philip Hoare, known for his trilogy ´Leviathan or, The Whale´ (2008), ´The Sea Inside´ (2013), ´RisingTideFallingStar´ (2017), and ´Albert and the Whale: Albrecht Dürer and How Art Imagines Our World´ (2021). Hoare´s text will be complemented by newly commissioned contributions from marine biologist Helen Scales and cultural theorist Manthia Diawara with art historian Terri Geis.