What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

March 26, 2020

Catherine Opie
Rhetorical Landscapes
Regen Projects
February 27 – May 2, 2020

Catherine Opie

At first glance, the two bodies of work Catherine Opie presents at Regen Projects seem to be worlds apart. Though best known for her portraits and more politically oriented works, Opie has also photographed the natural landscape. By entitling her recent pictures Swamps and presenting them under the title, Rhetorical Landscapes, Opie consciously references our political climate, specifically with regards to the phrase 'drain the swamp.' The origin of 'drain the swamp' stems from the need to cut back the mosquito population in order to combat malaria, specifically Washington D.C. which was founded on supposedly swampy ground. President Trump used this phrase during his presidential campaign to suggest the need for house cleaning, saying that he would, "drain the swamp of all the lobbyists who had hurt the country’s working class."

Encircling the gallery walls are color photographs of swamps taken while Opie was on a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. These images depict murky wetlands: expansive and quiet views of tangled trees growing out of black water that cast criss-crossing reflections, fluttering leaves, budding flowers and an array of creatures camouflaged with their surroundings. In Untitled # 2 (Swamps), 2019, for example, a partially submerged alligator floats peacefully at the waters edge. Though a "dangerous" animal, this one is not a threat, but peacefully at rest in its home habitat. Opie's lush photographs document the differing colors and temperaments of the ever-changing landscape. Opie's unpopulated pictures emphasize the beauty and importance of these eco-systems, especially with the ongoing reality of climate change.

Centered in the space and presented on large monitors that recall cellphone screens are Opie's low-tech stop motion animations in which magazine cut-outs representing myriad political issues gather and disband. Each of the eight screens display a short loop that coheres as a finished collage only to break apart and begin again. In Untitled 1 (Political Collage), 2019, Opie combines clippings of guns of all shapes and sizes that cascade down from the top of the screen, collecting at the bottom as a useless heap topped by an American flag ridden with bullet holes. Opie's animations investigate news-worthy topics and include numerous photographs of Trump and other politicians, natural disasters, political struggles, education and immigration issues all presented against blue painted grids that reference basic graph paper. Although infused with pressing content drawn from current events, these animations also display a tinge of satire and humor.

Opie is the rare artist whose work seamlessly spans the personal and the political. As evidenced in her exhibition, Rhetorical Landscapes, she is as comfortable documenting the natural landscape as she is in creating animations that point fingers at the injustices in contemporary society.

NOTE: A version of this review first appeared in VAS on March 21, 2020