British Petroleum had yet to cause the worst oil spill in American history when Mary Cook decided she wanted to host an art show at Target Gallery themed along the lines of the complete and utter failure of establishment.
Her decision was aptly timed. System Failure, the manifestation of gallery director Cooks brainchild, opens Saturday with 39 pieces of art examining what happens when systems of government, of war, of disaster response break down, lose structure and cease to be reliable.
As one might imagine, things get political.
I like to come up with themes relevant to the times, Cook said. It was intended to be political. Its a show that forces you to ask hard questions. I wanted to get an artist perspective of how we view the failure of a system and how its affecting people on the ground.
A lot of the work has to do with the failings, or at least the perceived failings, of government. Pieces on the environment, wars in the Middle East, Hurricane Katrina they all have a seat at the dysfunctional three-legged table that is System Failure. Theres even a necklace made of OxyContin (not for sale, Cook said). The creators take contemporary issues and use paint, clay, wax and everything in between, to express their take on fractured establishments.
Reggie Pointer of D.C. submitted a piece called Working Towards Peace? made of clay. Its a small box with a crank on one side and a chain connected to a plastic hand sporting the piece sign on the other. The crank turns, yet the chain doesnt move; it cant reel in the peace-toting plastic hand.
By exhibiting such inaction, Pointer promotes activism. Its here to make people understand that you have to be part of change to make a change, he said.
The piece deals with the reality that power is not all that you need, Pointer added. You can have the power but that doesnt mean therell be change. He analogizes the piece to President Obamas tenure in office.
While System Failure represents artists from all over the country, Alexandria artist Julia Dzikiewicz will have Winter and Global Warming on display. The encaustic (melted wax) piece also uses a cut-out of a postcard from the early 1900s of a girl the centerpiece standing on a ground of snow in the winter, trees iced mountaintops and a polar bear in the background. On the left and right are almost Biblical images depicting sorrowful women staring down at ski equipment they cannot use, blazing suns directly behind them.
The center portion depicts the ideal winter of the past, while the edges symbolize global warmings effects through Dzikiewiczs eyes. The women, created with melted wax, portray quite literally a meltdown. Its about the breakdown of Mother Natures established system, she said. The future shows that we had taken for granted is no longer available.
One piece, Martha Washington Orchid that Watches Only Alton Browns Good Eats Daily consists of an orchid that watches television (guess which show?) every half-hour. Its creator Christopher William White way of challenging the established system of humans and the environment. While a plant is a living being, it does not exactly have a personality. White changes that perception.
I feel that this sort of art is deeply important at a time when we are being asked to negotiate our relationship with the natural world, and consider how human (market)-based value systems might conflict with environmentally based value systems, White says in his artists statement.
By examining the broad effects of failing systems, Cook said System Failure might make people think about how they can improve, and strengthen the frail systems that the exhibit exploits. Anyone can turn the crank. Its tougher to reel something in.