"Water Preserves," the title of Jan Kather's current solo show, has a double meaning. On one hand, water sustains us — our bodies and our environment. On the other, water itself may require preservation. Although motivated by real world environmental destruction, the show treats both themes mostly in an indirect, metaphorical, and poetic manner.
The SOAG's back room, which has been darkened, contains four video installations. A large wall-projected video, Water Preserves, is the show's centerpiece. Incorporating footage from different locations (upstate New York and elsewhere), we are treated to a slow-moving, meditative essay on water's surfaces. The camera is mostly unobtrusive: it stays still or pans gently. Images dissolve into images. Looking down, we see waves, froth, stones, sand, shimmering light, bits of bright green foliage. Spots or streaks of mysterious pink or orange tint intrude occasionally. We hear the water, too.
According to Kather, the work may be entered and departed at any point in time. Still, for those willing to engage in a patient, protracted experience — and to abandon any expectation of linear narrative — it is worth taking in whole.
Three Mason jars (suggesting the theme of preservation) have been placed atop projectors and filled partially with water. The text and imagery is obscured, we see an enchanting abstraction of light and color.
A medium-sized video screen shows what is nearly a loop of still images. Time passes slowly before we dissolve to the next. We're outdoors, in winter's half-light. Only the steady falling of snow suggests time. We see an orange-tinted streetlight above. We move closer and then closer again. Then we see a criss-cross of snow-covered branches and then, finally, a brief shot of ground.
The least successful video features the most elaborate installation. A metal-mesh shelf has been fitted with six small screens — one in each cubby-hole. In front of each are one or two water-filled jars. The top three show image grids in shades of blue. The left and right of these show shots of clouds taken from an airplane. The middle screen shows water over grass. The bottom screens recycle the snow sequence at three different speeds — accompanied by ambient sounds including swinging doors and radio voices. Overall, the imagery is difficult to parse, the juxtaposition sketchily conceived, and the idea of water in multiple forms (solid, liquid, gas) tentatively presented.
In the front room, another screen presents a series of water-related works done by artists from around the world and assembled by Kather. (These can also be seen online: http://web.mac.com/jkather/iWeb/Site 11/Water Preserves.html.) Highlights are many. In Simone Stoll's Rain, we see from behind a bare-footed woman struggling for balance as she crosses a plank. Falling and flowing water surround her. Alicia Felberbaum's Not The Silent Sea is cacophonous: bright bands of unnatural color, visual distortion, swimming sea mammals and their cries, discordant music — all very appropriate, given her theme of noise pollution.
Also in front are several digital photo-collages. Based on grids (often staggered and irregular) they typically include identical or near-identical images reiterated. Again, images shot at disparate locales are mixed together. Many incorporate text, typically obscured: literary, Biblical or journalistic. One gets the sense of sketches, of ideas being worked out: only a few seem resolved as completed works.
Among these, Water Preserves: Homeland Security is particularly striking. The background image, in starkly beautiful black and white, shows a gentle cascade of water and ice. A row of translucent Mason jars cross the bottom edge. In the upper right corner of one of them, a tiny round warning sign in black, white and red: no drinking. The piece reflects post-9/11 concerns of bioterrorism and contamination — although these themes are (so to speak) submerged.
A series makes use of an image of a dead fish. A lenticular print (an image printed on a array of lenses which changes appearance as the viewer moves) juxtaposes the fish with a placid, postcard-like view of a lake. The medium is a bit contrived; a paper printed montage of the two images expresses the pastoral/morbid contrast with greater grace. Accompanying it is text taken from a 1964 obituary for ecologist Rachel Carson, one of the show's muses. Silent Spring: Fish and Pond (named after Carson's best-known book) shows a dead bird as well. The repetition and layering of the two images is subtle and varied. These images can be seen as elegies for environmental destruction.
A pair of silver prints date back to the eighties. Acadia and The Surf — both of them lovely and somewhat violent shore-scapes — show the continuity of Kather's aesthetics.
"Water Preserves" remains up at the State of the Art through March 1. From March 6 through April 3 it can be seen (likely in altered form) at Alfred State College in Alfred, NY.