In Bay Ridge, An Art Exhibit Inspired by the Amazon

Invisible Landscape
The opening reception at Stand4. Photo by the author for Hey Ridge

Though the seven international artists participating in AMAZON: Invisible Landscape, which opened at Stand4 on April 19, don’t come from or live in the same places, they all participated in LABVERDE, a unique residency in the Amazon rainforest. Lasting just 10 days, LABVERDE “is designed for artists and creators who are eager to reflect on nature and landscape,” according to its website. “The program will promote an intensive experience in the Amazon rainforest to explore the connection between science, art and the natural environment.” 

The exhibition’s 16 or so works use a variety of media with an emphasis on video and photography, seemingly to accentuate the documentative and experiential nature of the residency. We spoke with with AMAZON: Invisible Landscape‘s coordinator, Brooklyn-based sound artist and LABVERDE participant Michael Clemow. 

When did you participate in LABVERDE and what was your experience like?
I participated in LABVERDE in August of 2017. The residency is about two weeks long, with three days spent on a boat on the river and the remainder of the time at the Adolpho Ducke Forest Reserve, on the outskirts of the city of Manaus in Brazil. The reserve is a 10×10 kilometer area of forest that is quickly being surrounded by the growing city of Manaus. The reserve is one of the most well-studied patches of rainforest in the world and has facilities for researchers to stay for an extended period of time to conduct fieldwork. The experience of LABVERDE consists largely of living alongside the scientific researchers and learning from them while doing our own fieldwork as artists in the forest. This sort of first-hand experience of the rainforest and its fraught relationship to human society is what LABVERDE is all about.

It has been a life goal of mine to visit the Amazon, and so the experience was a very special one for me personally. Since we were so close to the scientific community studying the area, we were afforded a much deeper understanding of the ways in which the area is threatened—beyond that of the typical ecotourism experience. Various common myths about the Amazon were quickly dispelled. For instance, the notion that the Amazon is an area mostly untouched by humans is patently untrue. It is true, however, that our relationship to the Amazon has changed rapidly, starting with the colonial era and continuing through to today. Currently, the area is under severe threats from industrial agriculture and other modern practices. Responding to these ideas as well as the experience of being physically in the forest has been an interesting challenge.

Can you talk about your work included in the exhibition?
My work in the show is a multichannel sound piece created using field recordings I made on the residency as well as a spoken text that was written after I returned. The text medium is a new aspect to my work. I felt that I needed to draw myself into the work, to implicate myself somehow. I also felt as I often do after returning from these expeditions that the materials I end up exporting through my practice, photographs and audio recordings, seem to fall short of the experience. The text consists of a list of images or ideas that exist outside of the field recordings. They provide a context and tone that I find difficult to express through the abstract medium of sound itself.

Some of the video works in the show that contain soundtracks are also playing out loud in the gallery. Often this is a issue for sound art in a gallery setting as the works conflict with each other sonically. One beautiful thing about this show, since these works all use field recordings from the same location, is that they are all of the same sound-world, and the exhibition has a wonderful sense of place.

From “Ant Acoustics in Amazonas,” by Lisa Schonberg

Has the residency influenced or affected your practice since your return?
Unlike a lot of other residencies I’ve participated in, LABVERDE has managed to produce a cohort of international artists that are not only all still in touch with each other nine months afterward but, as this show demonstrates, working together to engage audiences about these specific issues, which is rare and beautiful. Personally, I think that the experience has been transformative in many ways. Over the past few years my practice has been in transition from abstract sound art to a more socially engaged practice. The results have been surprising and I think have freed my practice in many ways. One way I’ve found helpful to describe this transition is that I’ve gone from being an artist who uses sound as a material as to one who understands listening as a creative act.

How were artists selected to be included in this exhibition?
The artists were chosen by the curator, Lilian Fraiji, who runs the LABVERDE residency with her partner, Laurent Troost. This exhibition was a part of a series of events that LABVERDE produced in New York in order to raise awareness for the program. There were two “editions” of the residency in 2017, one in July and one in August. The artists come from both of those cohorts and have been chosen for a number of reasons, but all of them are linked through the curatorial vision of the LABVERDE residency and its focus on first-hand experience. Each artist’s work is exemplary of a different way-of-knowing the forest, manifested through their practice during the residency.

How do you feel this exhibition furthers the aims of the LABVERDE residency?
In the catalog for the residency, there’s an essay about how the Amazon can be both a household name while still being “invisible” politically and economically. I think that the artists who experience the Amazon through this residency come out with a deeper sense of the place and complex network of issues that connect to it. What’s great about this exhibition is that it demonstrates how artists as cultural producers can bring a depth of understanding to the conversation about climate change, ecology and the Amazon in particular. Artists and scientists both play important roles in cultivating this conversation in society in general.

Is there anything you want the Bay Ridge audience to take away from the show?
The devastation of the Amazon will affect every human on Earth. That’s one of the reasons that it is important to have artists working with first-hand experience in the forest. I hope that anyone who comes to see the show will become more curious about the Amazon and have their expectations disrupted. These things have characterized my experience and I hope that the work can convey some of that experience.

AMAZON: Invisible Landscape will be on view at Stand4 on Saturdays 12pm–3pm and by appointment, until May 31. Saturday, May 5, participating artists Tatiana Arocha, Michael Clemow and Daniel Kukla will hold a tea and discussion, 2pm–6pm

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Invisible Landscape
From “a disturbance” by Daniel Kukla