Fracking on Paper
by Jack Foran
Shale a focus of new exhibit at WNYBAC
Artists’ books with pages of stone—or what looks just like it—and what looks and feels like tissue paper are currently on display at the Western New York Book Arts Center. The stone pages books—shale, slate—are by Timothy Frerichs and have reference to fracking and other techniques in use to drain the last drop of fossil fuel—oil and gas—out of the North American subsurface, and damn the environmental consequences, which we’re complacent about because our heat bills are down, and gas at the pump is less than two dollars a gallon. (And hey, maybe all this fracking revenue will translate into the Bills and/or Sabres making playoffs sometime in the next decade or so.) The tissue paper diaphanous books are by Jill Kambs, and feature drawing and photogravure illustrations by Kambs to inscrutable poetry by Jane Wong in one book and Ellie Schiedermayer in another.
Kambs’ artwork is subtle and lovely. For the Jane Wong poems—vaguely about environmental devastation, with possible reference to the BP Gulf oil spill—line drawings that start out a single meandering line that then develops into outline trace drawings of a specimen of Celastrus scandens—a vine that produces pea-sized fruits that are poisonous to humans but nutritional to birds—at various times over a period from the autumn equinox to the winter solstice. Large-format versions of the Celastrus scandens drawings—presumably the originals from which the book illustrations are reproduced in small—are provided on wall-hanging layered sheets of handmade paper from a fibrous tropical plant called abaca. Kind of grand-scale books on their own, that viewers are encouraged to page through. Other drawings are based on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chart showing mean sea level rise from 1870 to the present. They look a little like surf washing up on a beach.
The Ellie Schiedermayer poems seem to be about digging in the ground. Possibly in a garden. Possibly in a graveyard. The accompanying photogravure illustrations—photogravure is a reproduction process via copperplate intaglio technique—seem to represent bones and body parts. A portion of spinal column? Some bone fragments? Kidneys? Lungs?
The excavational subject matter—if that is the subject matter—provides a tenuous connection to Frerichs’ subject matter. Geology, with special attention to fossil fuel-bearing rocks. And fracking and other extraction methods to retrieve such “tight fuel,” as it is called. And by implication, possible dire environmental effects of such methods and practices.
In one book, progressively smaller and smaller concentric circles—or casually circles—are incised into the layers of pages. Seeming to represent either a surface open-pit mine—open-pit mining is also used to excavate oil shale, to be further processed then to extract the oil—or gap subsurface cavity following oil or gas extraction via fracking. Or both situations at once. Open-pit mine visible wound representing the subsurface invisible wound due to fracking.
Another book—or maybe set of them—is entitled De Rerum: A response to the geology/mineralogy seminal science texts of Agricola, Gesner, Steno, Haüy, Smith, Lyell, Agassiz. (I don’t get this. “De” is a preposition that takes the ablative case. “Rerum” is genitive case. It should be De Rebus.)
Other Frerichs works are individual engraving mezzotint depictions of shale rocks on handmade papers.
More substantial—though still a little tenuous—connection between the two exhibits is the concern for the environment thematic. Other connections are that both artists studied at the University of Iowa—in a note on the Celastrus scandens project, Kambs specifies latitude and longitude coordinates for the specimen she drew, in Iowa, not far from Iowa City, home of the university—and both artists teach at SUNY Fredonia.
The dual artist exhibit continues through March 4.blog comments powered by Disqus
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