Sunday, October 5, 2008


From now until November 15, the Icebox Gallery in the Crane Arts Building is hosting Global Warming at the Icebox. The exhibition, curated by Cheryl Harper, Leslie Kaufman, and Adelina Vlas, is more commentary than activism, providing evidence of global warming but very few suggestions on how to combat it. Over the next several days, I will be recording my impressions gained during the opening on this blog.

One notable piece is Shai Zakai’s Forest Tunes – The Library. She, with assorted assistants, has created an intimate black box space in the center of the Icebox’s typically overwhelming white. This ongoing project of Zakai’s contains boxes in which she has collected leaves, seeds, twigs, and other natural detritus from around the world. Each box also holds an account of how the particular circumstances of how Zakai discovered their contents.

Across from the Library a video was running, its imagery either overly blurry or a bit too Photoshopy obvious for this Adobe nerd. There was also a sound component, but the roar of the opening did not let it reach my ears.

Going through her archives, I found myself wishing she had used better boxes, instead of just assorted shoeboxes painted black. While on one hand, I can respect her ability to reuse and upcycle, they seemed a bit unconsidered. This lack of consideration is particularly obvious upon opening the boxes, when remains of their former purpose, such as labels and leftover packaging material, stares you glaringly in the face, distracting from their contents. What might have been more appropriate would have been handcrafted clamshell boxes, appropriate to the size of their contents, made of recycled materials.

In the center of the installation is a reading table, with a card catalog of the Library placed in holders to be read. These holders are designed to allow readers to page through her cards, duplicates of every card that is placed in one of the boxes. However, I found these holders a bit awkward and a little too artsy. In particular were the multiple repeats of cards, or the cards in which text ran over onto the next card -- when these got out of order it created confusion for the reader. I think it would have been more effective to have simply spiral bound them into book form and allowed readers to simply page through them. They could even be placed on elevated stands so that their placement echoed the shape of the space, as the holders Zakai chose did.

Additionally, being personally familiar with book art crime, I can’t help wondering how many of these cards will be stolen by the end of the exhibition. Or maybe I should clarify, I wonder how many will be left?

Though her ability to integrate text, image, and reading isn’t up to par, her writing itself is incredible. Either taken directly from or based on the artist’s journal, the accounts of accumulating the Library chronicle her engagement with every leaf and twig in its archive.

One account in particular stood out for the Graphic Conscience. It was a description of her experience walking through a dying forest, a forest, to paraphrase her words, with a shorter lifespan than her own. Zakai reminds me that for many people, trees, with their ability to life longer than several human generations, are a connection to time itself. When we lose this connection to time, awareness of where we stand between the past and the future, everything becomes focused on Now. We grow shortsighted, egotistical, and forget that we are merely a small part in a larger continuum. Our lives, particularly for those of us who live in cities, are removed from natural cycles. We live and work in artificially lit spaces, relying on electricity rather than daylight for our illumination. Zakai’s words remind readers that our souls and nature’s souls are inextricably bound; harm to her is also harm to ourselves.

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