Barbara Fenig ’11 reviews “Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu”

Barbara Fenig ’11 reviews the exhibit “Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu.”

Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu makes the Davison Art Center exhibition gallery radiate with swirls, dashes, dots and splashes of pastel colors. The exhibit is a compilation of twenty prints and is the first comprehensive exhibition from the artist. In the pieces, Mehretu addresses the momentum of civilizations—their inherent creation and inevitable demise.

The works read like fossils, which showcase the creature that once was and its disintegrating present, a diminished shadow of its former self. But unlike fossils, Mehretu’s prints are alive with animated, colorful details. These layered portraits showcase glimpses of city-grids, skyscrapers, rivers, mountains, maps, and weather charts. The images take on voluminous shapes, curling lines, dashes, and vibrant colors to accentuate Mehretu’s study of “the interconnectedness and entropy of modern civilization.” The artist is at once showcasing the evolution of cities, and therefore civilization, while also dismantling the premises of human society. As she adds to the prints, Mehretu’s initial base for the piece—the city grids or weather charts or skyscraper architectural renderings—become enveloped, and often even erased, by cloudlike markings. This layered collage requires the reader to examine each piece countless times before absorbing the artist’s full intention.

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Mehretu grew up in East Lansing, Michigan; she has lived around the world in Michigan, Rhode Island, Senegal and New York City. She began printmaking while in a graduate program at the Rhode Island School of Design. Mehretu has delved into various printmaking techniques, including lithography, screen-printing, and chine collé, and uses various types of paper, such as gampi paper, in the exhibit. While viewing Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu, it is evident that Mehretu has thought about each aspect of the piece. From her choice for each piece’s materials to the viewer’s final glance at the piece from across the room, the artist has carefully tried to predict the audience’s reaction to her work. And it is this careful consideration that makes each piece so alluring.

Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu is deeply routed in earthly imagery, from mountains to river streams, skyscrapers to clouds. In Landscape Allegories (2004), the viewer first notices what appears to be a volcano—dashes of lava showcase the trauma within the piece. Yet, upon further examination, the viewer sees the world moving past the volcano and watches the landscape heal. The piece at once emphasizes the catastrophe and the reconciliation. Mehretu is ultimately showing the passage of time, crystallized in each portrait.

Many of Mehretu’s pieces in the exhibit do not use color. When the artist does incorporate color, Mehretu asks her audience to uncover this special meaning within each dot, line, or swirl of color. The viewer ponders whether that orange circle is in fact representative of the sun, or an orange, or some other shape entirely unimaginable before viewing the piece.

When visiting the exhibit, it is important to examine each piece from different distances. Just as Mehretu layers details, sometimes illuminating them and sometimes hiding them, the viewer must inspect each piece in various ways. Rogue Ascension (2002) is the ideal example of this. The piece has an undertone of peach clouded strokes. From afar, the viewer might think that this has been painted on top or within the print; however, the peach layer is actual buried beneath the print, an under-layer—like a fossil—, and viewable through a blurred sheet. Up close, the peach is barely visible, yet from across the room it beams forth demanding attention.

Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu runs through December 11, 2011. The Davison Art Center is open from noon to 4pm Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free.

Barbara Fenig ’11 reviews Dewey Dell’s “Cinquanta Urlanti Quaranta Ruggenti Sessanta Stridenti”

Barbara Fenig ’11 reviews Dewey Dell’s “Cinquanta Urlanti Quaranta Ruggenti Sessanta Stridenti”.

Dewey Dell: Cinquanta Urlanti Quaranta Ruggenti Sessanta Stridenti. (Left to right): Sara Angelini, Agata Castellucci, and Teodora Castellucci. Teatro Palladium, Rome, Italy. October 2010. Photo by Demetrio Castellucci.

The final performance in Dewey Dell’s two-week residency at Wesleyan University concluded with the American debut of Cinquanta Urlanti Quaranta Ruggenti Sessanta Stridenti. The title, which translates to “Roaring Forties, Furious Fifties, and Shrieking Sixties”, evokes the names of three westerly winds that haunt the Antarctic seas. The piece charts the story of a ship as it becomes cloaked by the winds. Against the silver and black backdrop of the set, which depicts the depths of the ocean, the ship grows into an enormous organism whose borders are blurring, corresponding with the winds, the sea, and the world as prescribed by Dewey Dell’s trio of dancers.

Dewey Dell’s creativity was well received by the packed audience at the sold out show. Siblings Teodora, Demetrio, and Agata Castellucci along with Eugenio Resta formed Dewey Dell in 2007. Teodora serves as the group’s choreographer, Demetrio as the composer, Eugenio as the light and set designer, and Agata as a leading dancer. As the performance progressed, Teodora, Agata and guest performer and friend Sara Angelini became representations of the boat, enveloped by their environment: their bodies synonymous with the elements as they danced around the Center for the Arts Theater stage.

Sponsored by the Center for the Arts and the Theater Department as an Outside the Box Theater Series event, Dewey Dell’s performance created a striking portrait of the world of the sea. The dancers wore costumes, which affirmed them as ethereal beings—a mirage of black costumes and white face paint, framed with black squares on the core of their faces—hiding their identities. The trio wore padded voluptuous hips, a confirmation of their feminine connection with nature, and thus the cinquanta urlanti quaranta ruggenti sessanta stridenti. In the question and answer following the performance, the trio also remarked that their authoritative hips remind them of the form of the boat and the temptation of sea sirens.

The performance’s electronic music was symbiotic with its commentary about nature as it replicated waves crashing, reacting to the boat, and the overall power of nature. The music’s aggressive vibrations mimicked the deadliest of waves, which were followed by the shrieking crew, cracking wood, and the buzzing hum of the moments between each dramatic wave, which provided melodic reprieves for the audience. Each time a wave would strike, it ripped the dancers back into the swirl of nature’s power.  The performance maintained a constant comparison between the bellowing of the crew and the murmur of the ocean.

During Dewey Dell’s residency, I heard about the brilliance of the group: how they were interacting with Wesleyan students, generously cooking Italian meals in Juniors’ LoRise apartments, roaming around campus, and teaching bits of Italian. This intriguing contrast is evidenced in Cinquanta Urlanti Quaranta Ruggenti Sessanta Stridenti as Dewey Dell is at once burgeoning talent and prophetic genius.