Tavares Strachan (born Nassau, the Bahamas, 1979), Ice Walk, 2004-06, Chromogenic photograph, Lent by the artist, Pierogi, and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts
Tavares Strachan: Arctic Ice Project at Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, New York 11238-6052
April 30 through September 27, 2009
The title of Tavares Strachan’s installation at the Brooklyn Museum lends it an air of Damien Hist-like philosophical irreverence. A refrigerated cubicle houses a two-and-a-half ton block of Arctic ice, which Strachan carved out of a river in Alaska, and which he playfully names The Distance Between What We Have and What We Want (Arctic Ice Project). Like Hirsts’ formaldehyde-encased shark, one is left with a reflective tension between the brute fact of the physical object and the abstract title hovering somewhere above.
Strachan’s title evolves out of his childhood in the Bahamas and the impossibility of imagining the Arctic from his perpetually warm home (the imagination playing a role, as in Hirst’s own piece, in the title-object tension). Bringing the block of ice back to the Bahamas last summer was like the return in a personal Odyssey; it was a confrontation with his childhood and the childhoods and adulthoods of so many others who are separated from this reality by impossible distances. (And, in spite of all the awareness that we have of the Arctic and global warming, his piece is a reflection on the separation we, too, experience in the continental United States.)
Accompanying his piece is a series of photographs which, at least in the installation’s incarnation at the Brooklyn Museum, could easily be missed by the casual observer. Two photos document Strachan’s trip to the Arctic, and the rest depict ice machines, faded and rusting, outside of Caribbean convenience stores. These photos are together titled Arctic Ice Project - the “project” side, one supposes of the parenthetical title of the piece—and are a welcome addition to the installation outside. In one photo in Alaska, Strachan stands in the white tundra next to a flag that resembles the one made by explorer Robert Peary when he reached the North Pole. As Peary’s feat spurred an Alaskan history which alienated many of the natives and culminated in Sarah Palin, Strachan’s symbolic act (a black man surrounded by never-ending white) is reflective, ironic, and even hopeful in a post-Obama era. It also reminds us why the Brooklyn Museum was an apropos host of the project, settled as it is now, in a neighborhood of Caribbean immigrants.
The series of ice machines are no less resonant as images, representing the invasion of this peculiar automated foreign convenience. In one picture, the electrical cord of a machine is evident, plugged into the wall of a building. In the top left quarter of the photograph, power lines dominate the landscape. You can at once almost viscerally feel the relief of these cool ice machines, as well as their impotence in comparison to the overwhelming weather - and the uncomfortable fact that they are a convenience whose energy consumption affects a world invisible to the Bahamas.
Strachan’s refrigerated box is solar powered, meaning that it doesn’t consume the same energy as its Caribbean counterparts, and meaning, too, that its display is only possible in climates like those of his hometown and the places worldwide where it need be displayed.
Particularly with the addition of the photographs indoors, Strachan’s piece is rich with implications about our global networks, the environment, colonialism, and the imagination. Its current, call it “major” title, The Distance Between What We Have and What We Want seems like a reach (and nearly an overreach) toward broadening the personal motivation of the piece into larger philosophical dimensions. Certainly this is a step in the right direction, as a broader title allows the mind to wander into greater vistas of meaning. The force of the piece isn’t solely in that early imagination, it is in the way that the imagination drives us into projects of many kinds. It drives us into the wilderness, it drives us to explore our opposite, it drives us to conquer, it drives us to convenience, and it drives us to preservation. It is a projection into all of these things, indeed. To my mind, however, the richness of Strachan’s work is not captured so much in the major title, but quietly, meaningfully, in the parenthetical afterthought, the one that captures the heart of his photographs: Arctic Ice Project.
Photo credit: Sofiya Gurari; The 2.5 ton block of Arctic ice is successfully placed into the specially designed freezer powered by solar energy.
Marika Josephson writes about art and politics, and is a graduate student in philosophy at the New School for Social Research.view all articles from this author