A multisensory show of wide-spectrum photography, music, light, flora, and fauna examines the Amazon rainforest

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A multisensory show of wide-spectrum photography, music, light, flora, and fauna examines the Amazon rainforest
The entire exhibition is rich, stunning, dramatic, and emotionally-charged.

BENTONVILLE, ARK.- In a rich, emotionally-charged immersion in light, sound, and imagery, the Momentary explores the drama, allure, and delicate balance of life in the Amazon rainforest. A campus-wide experience, Enduring Amazon: Life and Afterlife in the Rainforest has been anchored by a groundbreaking ultra-high-definition film from humanitarian and environmental photographer Richard Mosse. The exhibition features a multi-gallery soundtrack by award-winning composer Ben Frost, a new video and sound installation by Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris, and a captivating living sculpture drawn from the forest’s basin by David Brooks.

In addition to Mosse’s “Broken Spectre” film, the visually gripping experience includes a sweeping selection of the artist’s large-scale, technicolor aerial photographs alongside an ultraviolet macro-photographic exploration of the insects and plants that live on the forest floor beneath the lush canopy above.

An epic 74-minute masterpiece, “Broken Spectre” depicts the scale and urgency of the Amazon’s collapse through a dazzling array of high-resolution film-making techniques, including inky ultraviolet close-ups, aerial panoramas, and canopy-piercing infrared photography. Through exquisite detail and beautiful, sometimes gut-wrenching juxtaposition, Mosse harnesses the same high-tech photography techniques used by mining and lumber companies to locate natural resources for commercial purposes to capture the act and aftermath of slash and burn agriculture, strip mining, and radical deforestation. Presented on a 68-foot-wide surround-sound screen, custom fabricated for the exhibition, the film reveals the complex web of codependence among the plants, creatures, and humans that dwell within the rainforest’s ecosystem.

“The Amazon is at a tipping point where 75% of the entire forest is so degraded by processes of deforestation that soon it will stop generating its own rain and no longer be a rainforest,” said artist Richard Mosse. “Mass forest dieback and species extinction will result, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, greatly accelerating global heating, and affecting weather patterns everywhere. It’s not easy to capture the gravity of the situation, or its impact on our own lives. But through this exhibition, we’re attempting to render its enormity, and what it might mean for our planet, and for us as individuals.”

In other spaces within the Momentary, David Brooks’ sculptural installation Lonely Loricariidae highlights the evolutionary splendor and breathtaking resilience of life in the Amazon, together with the interdependent yet sometimes contradictory relationship between science and commerce. Featuring newly discovered examples of armored catfish – still undescribed and unclassified by science – the installation’s strangely beautiful creatures are important indexes of the health and intricate complexity of what endures in the forest. Their presence, staring back at visitors from the position of spectators, begs the question of how to both preserve and monitor the Amazon’s breathtaking biodiversity, while also attempting to study and learn from it.

“The interrelationship between harvesting natural resources, conservation, and the health of the water we drink and air we breathe is one of the most important and debated issues of our time,” notes Elise Raborg, organizer of the exhibition and curatorial associate of the Momentary. “We’re inviting visitors to take a deeper look at the intricate complexity of the situation through a rich series of visual and aural experiences, focusing on one of the earth’s most important and precious ecosystems.”

Also included in Enduring Amazon are works by renowned artist duo Sayler/Morris, who debuts a newly commissioned multi-channel video animation that explores the butterflies of the rainforest, including the exquisite Amazon-native blue morpho. The blue morpho was also studied by another Amazon artist-explorer, Martin Johnson Heade, whose jewel-like 1863 oil portrait of the butterfly – part of the Crystal Bridges collection – is on view alongside the Sayler/Morris animation Prophecy of the Butterflies. In the animation’s vibrant kaleidoscope of light, sound, and insect choreography, the butterflies seem to become harbingers, bringing messages from the jungle itself. Outside in the Momentary’s courtyard, the artists project their 2014 work Eclipse, drawing parallels between the Amazon’s current wave of extinction and the loss of the North American Passenger Pigeon – a species that once lived in such abundance that they could blacken the region’s sky during their annual migration.

Accompanying the entire exhibition is a series of interrelated sound and musical compositions by Ben Frost, known for both his electronic music performances and his film soundtracks. Among other audio sources, Frost draws on field recordings of insects and bats, whose “voices,” when lowered many octaves, resemble that of a human soprano. In addition to scoring the entirety of Enduring Amazon, Frost will created a light and sculptural experience that activates the full height of the Momentary’s Tower Gallery, which reaches 65-feet high.

“Enduring Amazon is meant to be enjoyed in its totality,” said Joe Thompson, the Momentary’s curator-at-large and co-organizer of the exhibition. “Our hope is that visitors move through the operatic sequence of still imagery, sound-infused video, flora, fauna, and spaces animated purely by light and sound, absorbing something of the majesty of the Amazon, but also the mortal threat its collapse would mean to global ecosystems and Indigenous culture. It’s a complex story, full of back-to-back culpability and great beauty.”

Enduring Amazon will be on view at the Momentary from November 18, 2023, through April 14, 2024.

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