Though handling an exhaustively common categorization, two alums, Leticia Wouk Almino, BC ’08, and Katie Shima, CC ’05, might just avoid the pitfalls of examining modernity in their new exhibitions, now on display in the Diana Center.
Rather than take on the tone of angsty indignation, the exhibits, respectively titled “On Edge: 16 Squares” and “Living Machines,” both make implicit statements about the intersection of technology and public life. To their credit, neither artist allows her disposition to overwhelm her work, and each approach is intelligent enough to warrant attention and consideration.
“On Edge: 16 Squares” is an architecture photography exhibit that examines the public squares of four cities in Portugal and Brazil, all four of which were capitals at some time. Almino uses the public square in Lisbon as her primary study and shows the transformation of the public square across three Brazilian capital cities: Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia.
She argues that though these squares may have once been centers of public life, they now reflect a power dynamic in which an ordinary person walking through the square feels alienated and exposed.
“The public square is no longer a place of welcoming, but of surveillance,” Almino said.
Almino attributes the barren atmosphere primarily to the introduction of the automobile, pointing out that a public square in Rio de Janeiro has a highway running through it that pollutes the visitor’s view and divides the space. The general emptiness of the public square has to do with class migrations associated with growth of the automobile industry. “With the automobile comes the highway and the suburban sprawl,” Almino said. “The rich move to gated communities and are removed from city life. People may walk across the square to get to work, but that’s all.”
Though Shima is an architect and her work incorporates architectural design, “Living Machines” is a collection of a dozen digital reproductions of ink drawings that recall science-fiction illustrations rather than blueprints. The pieces synthesize the natural and the industrial, depicting highly intricate machinery interspersed with images of water, leaves, and earth.
The drawings remind the viewer not only of the natural processes that have been replaced by technology, but also of the all-embracing industrial infrastructure that most people don’t notice.
“We couldn’t have this standard of living without major industries,” Shima said. “But I think that most people are entirely unaware of those processes.”
The designs intrigue and overwhelm the viewer. Though small on paper, they employ monumental design that, like the architecture of the public square, engulfs the human being and makes him or her feel small. A tree’s or flower’s simple sketch entails thousands of industrial activities that most cannot grasp. People see the results, but the infrastructure is controlled and understood by a select and privileged few.
The exhibits will be on display until Oct. 5.