It is as silly to call a drawing or painting beautiful as it is to describe food as tasty, because what do those words tell you?
But Jowita Wyszomirska’s installation, “Water Memory,” in the Small Gallery at the Windgate Center for Art + Design at UA Little Rock is of such ineffable quality that beautiful will have to do. It is impossible to describe the transporting effect of her manipulation of line — in places dark, others thin, others inky, some jagged, some sinuous.
Wyszomirska, who was born in Poland and lives in Maryland, was a resident artist last year in the remote Alaskan town of McCarthy in the Wrangell Mountains. The experience, and her concerns with ecological changes, inspired the installation. In a note to UA Little Rock gallery director Brad Cushman, Wyszomirska talked about her walks on the Root Glacier near McCarthy: “I was grounded on the surface of something ancient that is moving, churning ground, melting away. At first, I felt that my body is a short-lived object held in contrast to the slow and firm glacier occupying the landscape. Yet the melting of glaciers and the speed at which landscape changes in the Arctic is itself a fragile and quickly disappearing body.”
In “Water Memory,” Wyszomirska places the viewer among snow, ice and rocks, with both two-dimensional works — tinted in places with glacier blue — and nine-foot strips of Mylar descending from the ceiling. The painted strips are staggered so that the viewer can walk among them, as if they were walking through the landscape. Each strip stands alone as an engaging piece of art that is both abstract, representational and fresh, thanks to the artist’s unconventional application of mediums. Wyszomirska suggests snow-covered mountains, rocky valleys and dark crevasses with paint that is splotched, sponged over with white and dripping, and with an interplay of white space and drawn areas that suggests blinding snow against rock.
In a happy accident of installation, light passing through a strip of Mylar in one part of the gallery creates an image of moving water on a wall as air currents move the film.
“Water Memory” is wrenching in its beauty and its reminder of melting where there should be no melting. In a nod to place and changeability, the strips are anchored with clear jars of Arkansas River water, born in the snowpack of the Rocky Mountains and, perhaps, remembering its source.
The artist will give a talk about the work at 6 p.m. Sept. 28 in room 101 of the Windgate Center.
“Memory / Commitment / Aspiration,” works by artists from Vietnam, Cambodia and India and other Asian countries that address oppression, are on exhibit in the Brad Cushman Gallery, the main gallery on the second floor of the Windgate Center (which is the entrance level from the parking lot). Sixteen artists are represented in the show, which is from the Pierrette Van Cleve Collection, and many employ symbols surely only partly understood by Western viewers, which is part of the reason for hanging the show. Several works address women’s issues in particular: In one, a woman hovering over vibrators with clown-like decorations has her face obscured by a silly Instagram animal filter, keeping her identity secret. Other works address prostitution as a way of survival and the impact of the Khmer Rouge on mothers and wives. Amy Lee Sanford’s videotaped performance art in which she smashed clay Cambodia pots and then put them, imperfectly, back together again concern the destruction and rebuilding of culture. Surjit Akre’s “Earth” is a painting about men and war, depicting in greens and black on a textured surface a wide hole in which partially lit bodies have been tossed.
A public reception for this show and “Water Memory” will be held 5-7 p.m. Sept. 5. Van Cleve will talk about the work in “Memory / Commitment / Aspiration at 12:15 p.m. Sept. 4 and Sept. 6 in room 101 of the Windgate Center. Both shows end Sept. 28.