Apart from the fumes of four decades’ worth of ocean sediment and the odd patch of dried coral, Hannes Bend’s first solo exhibition envelops its viewers with sounds, odors and visuals reminiscent of the sea, itself: mysterious, brutal, cold bathed in aqua blue. The entire fourth floor of the Wynwood Arts Complex carried the pungent smell of 80 salvaged tires from the Osborne Reef near Fort Lauderdale.
About a month earlier, Bend and his gallerist Eric Charest-Weinberg, convinced a team of volunteer divers and mariners to repurpose remnants of a failed artificial reef as a site of aesthetic experimentation. An arduous mission ensued, with the lithe German artist often diving into the water (sneakers included), himself, to aid the professional divers in their efforts to extract the rotting tires from the seabed.
The space is awash with whizzing planes and trucks, whale songs, and the swoosh of water, itself contained in different forms (whether in a swimming pool, aquarium or the infinite ocean). Three video panels balance information and exposition, one filming the undersides of industrial vehicles passing by, the second depicting varying images of nude swimmers frolicking in a pool interspersed with aquarium fish and their human gawkers, and the third a strict documentary of the salvage operation by a local CBS underwater videographer. Adjacent to the third video, an inflatable bag and rope used in the mission hang on the wall. On the floor, the mangled rubber rings are scattered about, mimicking the geography of the current state of the Osborne Reef. White dust from the withered coral crunches underfoot, as the viewer must physically negotiate a path (gently hinted at by a sliver of the raw concrete gallery floor) throughout.
There appears to be little evidence of Bend’s actual industry: apart from arranging the tires and editing film, where is the work? The Osborne Reef project was a culmination of the rigorous research, careful intellectual structuring and physical strength. To incorporate an environmental rescue into a single expressive gesture is nothing new, but to arrive as a foreign artist (sponsored by a prominent local collective, The Fountainhead Residency) with no immediate contact with a failed artificial reef in Florida and successfully plan, delegate and execute a salvage effort resulting in a pertinent gallery project is quite remarkable. At its core, Eclipse is less a trophy to a rescue mission flanked with postmodern echoes of naked swimmers and cars, but more akin to simulating the effects of human interaction with the ocean: the barrage of alien noises and disturbances on what (millennia ago) was a quiet liquid landscape coupled with the waste from those instances creating and perpetuating living hazards for marine creatures and, eventually, humans.
Born in Neustadt, Germany in 1980, Bend cites his interest in environmental matters with his entrance into Greenpeace at age five. Since then, his evolution into a practicing artist has run parallel to the intense changes happening around him in the natural world. Historical references may be made to Smithson, Matta-Clark, Turrell and Beuys in their experimentations with the planet’s physical properties finding validation in the closed gallery space. Yet, Bend’s cataloguing of the degradation of the ‘natural sublime’ is the accomplishment of, even in the smallest increment, an act which cleanses the distressed section of nature rather than simply inhabiting, replicating or observing it.
This exhibition was supported by volunteers from:
South Florida Diving Headquarters
Palm Beach HammerHeads Dive Club
Shana Beth Mason is a critic formerly based in Brooklyn now active in London, UK. Contributions include Art in America, ArtVoices Magazine, FlashArt International, InstallationMag (Los Angeles), Kunstforum.as (Oslo), The Brooklyn Rail, The Miami Rail, San Francisco Arts Quarterly (SFAQ), and thisistomorrow.info (London).
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