Generally when a Vineyard art gallery hosts a group show with a theme, the work is related through style or subject matter. Not so with the latest show at A Gallery. The title is “dis.place.ment,” and though the work is connected through that concept, the four artists included in the show work in four very distinct media.
“This show is about the refugee situation, and it’s also about the environmental fragmentation that’s happening,” A Gallery owner Tanya Augoustinos told The Times. “At this moment, I thought displacement was a really timely subject. I’ve been thinking about the number of people displaced in the world. It can seem so far away, but it’s just a few steps away if you look at history. I was looking within the artists that I work with, and it just happened that these four artists were in front of me at the moment.”
The most straightforward representation of the theme can be found in the sculptures of Ilka List, who works in bas relief terra cotta and bronze. Her wall-mounted pieces all tell stories through mini dioramas. Although in past series she has focused on dream images or fable-like settings with animals and people, for her latest series Ms. List depicts a much harsher reality: the plight of refugees.
“I’ve been interested in migration for a long time,” Ms. List said. The centerpiece of her display at the A Gallery show is a triptych based on photos from the mass evacuation of the town of Pristina during the Kosovo War. “They had 45 minutes to pack up and leave,” Ms. List said.
Another piece features Eritrean refugees crowded into a small boat. “They’re leaving the African continent and trying to cross the Mediterranean in rickety boats at great expense of life,” Ms. List said. “Many had drowned. The images were very disturbing to me.”
In her artist statement, Ms. List writes, “I try to capture in clay the expressions and feelings of the people reflected in the images I’ve collected. I see their humanity, their bewilderment, their fear, their indifference. Each face and figure conveys an aspect of our common human nature. Deep inside I think that I, too, could be one of that crowd. As I look at my sculpture, I treasure each individual. Each one is a person such as you or me with hopes and dreams and desires. It is tempting to think that the most serious problems are ‘over there,’ somewhere else.”
Ms. List sees a parallel in her displacement sculptures to the current situation in Aleppo and other locations of mass migration, as well as to the human condition. “It all relates in a way,” she said. “It comments on our own personal handicaps. About the things that are holding us back from trying to use our talents or living our lives as we choose.”
The charcoal drawings of James Langlois similarly take a metaphoric view of the theme. The highly detailed scenes feature a cast of odd characters — some anatomically distorted. “The drawings illustrate the complexities of both internal and external conflicts,” writes Mr. Langlois in his artist statement, “as life, death, societal pressures, religious and popular culture are brought to bear on an individual’s choices.”
There’s something inexplicably disturbing about the images in their depiction of a strange world populated by incongruously paired figures and metaphorical symbols. “There’s a feeling of displacement,” Ms. Augoustinos said, “Partly because you’re not sure what’s happening so that you’re trying to put your own personal reference on to them.”
Taking the theme to another level, an installation by Paul Lazes speaks to more literal displacement. He has gathered together an assortment of mannequin limbs — arms, legs, hands to which he has attached sawed-off tree branches, and arranged them into a random grouping.
“The work is a response to pictures coming out in the media from the Middle East,” Ms. Augoustinos said. “There’s massive destruction going on, and people don’t want to look at that. We’re part of the problem. We’re looking away and don’t want to see it.”
Popular Island artist Cindy Kane comments on the destruction of the environment and geopolitical chaos in her two large paintings included in the “dis.place.ment” show. The images are made up of juxtaposed geometric figures. “It’s about fragmentation of the environment,” Ms. Augoustinos said. “How we’re pushing the boundaries further and further away from something harmonious. The storm is coming and we’re feeling powerless to do anything about it.”
“The paintings that Tanya is showing don’t differ so dramatically from the work I’ve been doing for the past few years, except that they are possibly more obsessively layered
and textured,” Ms. Kane said. “They are part of a continuum of paintings that I view as maps. They reflect my interest in boundaries and anxiety and migration patterns.”
Ms. Kane will have a piece from another recent series, “Empty Skies,” included in a group show next month in New York City. The show, called “In Harm’s Way,” will focus on the theme of environmental degradation. The “Empty Skies” series, a grouping of hospital beds featuring various endangered birds, was installed at the old Marine Hospital this past summer.
On Monday, A Gallery announced the exhibit will also include a digital art piece by Richard Skidmore, called “More Morality.”
Ms. Augoustinos commented on her motivation for mounting the show: “With the election in mind, what people have not been talking about is the endless cycle of war, the displacement of people. In a way it’s my role, my duty, to give artists this space to exhibit their work and flex their voices.
“Considering how political this year has been for everybody, whether we’re actively involved or just scanning the headlines, there’s so much going on with the environment and domestic issues here in the U.S. The Middle East is an ongoing quagmire of confusion. One thing I’ve not been focused on is Donald Trump. There are so many other, more important things happening. He’s just distracting from other issues.”
For exhibit hours and more information, visit agallerymv.com.