Johnna Arnold at Traywick Gallery, Berkeley.
Step. Step. Step. Step. Gaze. Breathe. Look. Look. Step. Look. Step. Step. Step. Gaze. Scratch. Breathe. Step. Breathe. Look. Look. Look.
I visited this exhibition with Miriam in person. We walked the small, private gallery, which was perfect. We looked at the photographs. I was so impressed by the work.
It explores the pedestrian spaces that we pass without thinking: freeway interchanges, chain-link fences and cement walls, bridges, cranes, barges, rarely used doorways, transit of all kind.
It does this without an obvious agenda: the uglification of nature, the human need to suffocate spontaneous growth, congestion, etc. No, this work explores these spaces so that we can see our own relationship to them in all of its asymmetry. Our little bodies (as is the body of the artist, visible somewhere in each photograph). Our busy-ness. Our insistent, incidental use of color, even in industrial and urban settings. The exquisite pull of the natural world, despite the ways in which it is being overrun by human beings. How we wish something into existence.
Let’s look at each of these three that are submitted.
Here on this post, the first photograph is Aquatic Park, I-880, Berkeley, CA. It is hard to see this in the digital image on a screen, but cars whiz by, behind a fence, in the distance. You realize, looking at it closely, that this body of water is just off the freeway. (In fact the east shore of Aquatic Park is the original shoreline of the East Bay — formerly a wetland — inhabited by the Ohlone Indians of this area.) The artist sits surrounded by water, at center in the dark. Pools of yellow and pale blue and pink and mauve light gather and mix with pools of darkness. We are entering the time when the shadow of our planet falls over us (which is, of course, what people commonly called “night”).
Everything mixed together.
The next, Arnold Point, I-80, Oakland, gives us a view onto a port . The artist (whose name is “Arnold,” nudge, nudge) clings to the very edge of the spit of concrete jutting out from the right. Again, the familiar, made new to us. The colors are vivid. The humanity so dun and frail. The water so indifferent. This photograph can be studied and studied, and you will continuously have the sense that you are about to crack the code of the human condition (and continuously not quite get there, of course).
And in the last, Passenger Train, I-680, Benecia, California, we see a train passing over a bridge, water. Great concrete works. What human ingenuity has wrought! And how sterile-seeming, until you look more closely. The artist stands looking up, off left. The grain of the concrete, and the metal, and the light, starts to vibrate. Who painted those dark gray rectangular patches on the wall? Who designed those trusses? It is staggering to look upon the feats of humanity and realize that we too are but animals — though we pretend otherwise. We too will never know more than our brains, the products of a specific evolution, can perceive. So many unanswered questions that will never be answered. All you can do is step. Step. Step. Gaze. Look. Breathe.
Oh, and there’s one more (the link to this post from the main submitforriff.com page). In this one, Fake Rock, Rodeo, I-80, California, the artist stands atop a steep side wall alongside a highway. The camera has captured the red streaks of a passing tail-light. The feeling is one of freedom and containment, all at once. No burdens but no escape either. Step. Step. Gaze. Look. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.