Jordan Weber is a chronicler of environmental degradation and its effects on communities, particularly African-American communities. He has made quite a name, too, having been invited to big shows on both coasts and being paired with some of the biggest names in African-American art. Most recently he did an exhibition in Omaha with Lachelle Workman and Zora Murff that studied the “Rashomon effect” of environmental images and how people interpret their information differently. Much of his new show at Moberg Gallery (through Aug. 21) comes from that.
“I wanted to study environmental collapse and how it often leads to societal collapse. From Easter Island to inner city neighborhoods, something has happened to destroy first the environment and then society,” he said.
One work in the show is of extinct species that once inhabited Easter Island. Like most everything in the exhibition, it’s black and white.
“I like black and white for two main reasons. First it focuses you to focus on the energy of a piece, undistracted by color and prettiness. Secondly, I feel that America is so polarized today by violence and a breakdown of trust, that black and white best represents that,” he added.
One sculpture in the show is of a taxidermic wolf that has been half soaked in tar. It can remind some people of the La Brea tar pits where many an extinct species went to die. It also says something about man-made inventions that do not treat the flora and fauna of the planet well.
Weber also uses the Japanese anime character Speed Racer in some paintings, including one work in gold. It’s part of a main theme of the show.
“I am curious about the fast-paced, predatory nature of human existence today. Speed is almost addictive, and it’s not healthy,” he observed.
The largest work in the show stacks a pair of totaled out motorcycles. Eventually he will stack five wrecked bikes at an upcoming museum show.
The most commented upon piece in the show is something Weber made on plywood with a chisel, gasoline and fire. It features a 1940’s-style pulp fiction nude being carried by some form of anthropomorphic beast. It’s 4 feet by 5 and a half feet and has already drawn serious interest from two midwestern museum directors.
The Des Moines Art Center’s “Ruptures” deals with many of the same themes as Weber. Lauren Fensterstock was in town last month and explained her elaborate work made with shells, wood and mixed media — a piece that mixes a gorgeous Biedermeire cabinet built to show off 19th century collections of things and stalagmites that seem to be asserting their own control.
“I named it ‘The Order of Things’ after (Michel) Foucault’s book. It’s human nature to try to assert order, linguistics is all about that. Nature though asserts its own order and it’s very different,” she explained.
She works in the color black because “It’s mysterious. Darkness enchants.” Ironically, she is not a caver despite her interest in cave-like things. “I can’t even handle The Lincoln tunnel,” she admitted.
Also in town was her good friend Beth Lippman, whose installation “In Earth” is the most complicated piece in the show. The artist spent 10 hours a day for four days installing it in Des Moines. Mostly glass, with metal, paint and adhesive, it also mixes man-made things with glass images of natural forces. They clash in mysterious ways.
“Working with such fragile materials, things will always fall and break. I just leave them there. It’s part of the process. I love mistakes. Not everything is perfectly successful. That’s good to remember,” she said.
This show plays through Sept. 3. ♦