May 13, 2021
Year of Wonders, redux
18th Street Art Center
March 29 - July 2, 2021
In the fall of 2020, Elana Mann was an artist in residence at Artpace, San Antonio, TX. There, she created work for her exhibition Year of Wonders which was on view November 19, 2020 - January 10, 2021. Created during the height of the pandemic and inspired by Geraldine Brooks' book Year of Wonders that focused on the 1666 pandemic plague in England, Mann's installation takes into consideration both the civil unrest and the isolation that occurred during the year of Covid-19. Mann has recreated the exhibition now presented as Year of Wonders, redux for 18th Street Arts Center.
The large sculpture Our work is never done (unfinished business) (2020-21) sits in the the center of the space. It is a fiberglas bull horn 120 inches long with multiple speaking tubes. According to Mann, it was "modeled on the Mega-kazoo-horn originally made by the legendary folk music figure Charles Chase." It also recalls Erika Rothenberg's Freedom of Expression National Monument (1984) —- originally presented in New York for Creative Time's annual program Art on the Beach -- another participatory sculpture that invited viewers to broadcast their thoughts. Mann's piece was conceived of as a protest horn meant to be played by six people simultaneously to "harness the power of a collective voice." Because of the pandemic, it has to be experienced individually which in some ways has kept the sculpture from fulfilling Mann's intentions for it. At 18th Street, it beckons seductively, yet remains silent.
Around the perimeter of the gallery whose walls have been painted a deep blue, are 50 unique rattles each with a beautiful turned wood handle and capped with a ceramic top that has been glazed with words or phrases. Collectively titled Unidentified Bright Object 11 – 60 (2020), these rattles all have different sounds, shapes and words. Wearing a white glove, it is possible to lift the rattles from their supports and shake them to create myriad sounds that become individual voices within the space. Choosing from texts like We/Me, No, Speak, Stand Up, People/Power, Hear, Peace, Go, etc., it is possible to compose slogans and rhythms in one's mind.
The rattles are visually engaging objects that function as both wall based sculptures and as instruments whose purpose is to create sounds. This of course would be better achieved with multiple participants, but due to Covid-19 restrictions, group interactions are still limited. Upon entry, I was handed a white glove and encouraged to remove the rattles from their holders and shake them as I circled the exhibition. It was extremely gratifying to feel the different weights of the rattles and think about their disparate sounds. Usually, I associate interaction with technology— the click of a mouse, viewing something through an app — so enjoyed the body activated and activating aspects of this interaction.
Also on view are works on paper including After Sister Mary Corita Kent and Rising waves (2021), a five-panel edition depicting abstracted waves with a text attributed to the economist, journalist and policy advisor Barbara Ward that reads: "… we are either going to become a community or we are going to die" and the compelling Self-portrait as radical empath (dedicated to Pauline Oliveros) (2021) where a line drawing of the artist's head fuses with the bell of a horn. Two short videos fill a darkened space. One is more abstract — an imagined landscape of floating instruments, while the other documents possible commands, sounds and gestures of the rattles. Here, hands are filmed shaking rattles proclaiming "hope" and "no" that pulsate against a bright pink background. They are followed by "see" "hear" "know" which then becomes "see" "peace" "help." "Truth" and "shame" also appear. These words are a call to action — expressing some of what has occurred during the last year.
In Mann's installation, there is much to see, touch and think about. Though currently experienced individually or in small groups, she has encapsulated the sentiments of the pandemic and created a thoughtful meditation on the possibilities of collectivity.
Click here for Elana Mann on its own page.