“I am interested in beauty but I mistrust it. Instead, I look for beauty that exists in tension with the material or circumstances that invent it”. This has become one of the mantras of Carson Fox, the Brooklyn-based artists whose artwork is the newest installment in the NEW/NOW exhibition series for emerging contemporary artists. The dual nature of beauty is certainly evident in Bi-Polar, which will open at the NBMAA on November 4th.
Bi-Polar is a two-room, mixed-media installation. The larger “ice room” is a place where the ephemeral becomes eternal, and the fragile is made indestructible. Over 100 resin icicles dangle overhead, beautiful and almost playful, yet dangerous at the same time, causing the viewer to tread carefully underneath them. In the second, “fire room”, pink, red and orange glowing resin logs serve as reminders of the function of fire as both a life-giving and a life-threatening force. Together with hand-painted flames that cover the walls, the elements in this room suggest the presence of warmth. When viewed side by side, the two rooms not only represent opposites in nature, but become symbols for something much more personal to Fox: her mother and father. Born in Oxford, Mississippi (the hometown of William Faulkner), the artist credits the American Southern Gothic tradition as the precedent for infusing individual life experiences and acknowledging heritage in one’s artwork.
Fox’s mother is represented by the myriad of icicles. This symbolic connection was forged in a dream the artist had about her mother shortly after her death, in which they were both surrounded by ice that was quickly melting. Reflecting upon this imagery, Fox asked herself the question: “If I fixed the ice in time, could I keep her from vanishing?” Thus, the powerful dream served as the catalyst for creating the icicles, a process which in turn became part of the healing process for Fox after the loss of her mother. Fox states, “My work is really very autobiographical. My desire to come to terms with my past drives everything I do.”
On the other side of the Gallery, the “fire room” signifies Fox’s father. When she was a young child, she recalls seeing her father chop down trees for firewood, but stop short of cutting them into usable logs and leave them to rot in the backyard. All the while, the heat would be turned off in every room except his own. It was an effort to save money at the cost of denying the family the most basic of needs. This absence of actual heat is certainly felt in the “fire room”, but it is the presence of the logs that most directly represents the cruelty and indifference Fox felt as a child from her father. The logs are tangible, but false, unusable.
Bi-Polar is a visually stunning work, but also one that holds inherent potential to evoke emotion. This potential is realized and ignited once the poignant symbolism behind the visual vocabulary is understood, enveloping the viewer in the artist’s personal history. At the same time, Bi-Polar invites the viewer into a wider world of questions regarding the universal human desire to resist against the forces of natural order, push the boundaries of what is within or beyond our control, and ultimately arrest time.
Please join us for the Opening Reception on November 4th, during the Museum’s First Friday Event, from 5:30 – 8 p.m. , with artist’s remarks at 6 p.m. Be sure to experience Bi-Polar before it closes on February 5th, 2012.