“The deepest thing we can learn about nature is not how it works, but that it is the poetry of survival.” — John Fowles
The Poetry of Survival, up at Utah State University Eastern’s East Gallery through Nov. 1, showcases work by Anne Kaferle and Kadi Franson, two artists who meditate on the fragility of life in the Anthropocene, the current geological age characterized by significant human impact. The exhibition takes a critical approach to the human impact on geography and geology — focusing on a way to create conditions conducive to other life, in which the survival of one species ensures the survival of many.
The show comprises Franson’s minimalist, circular, and mineral-inspired images with Kaferle’s ambiguous drip paintings. The styles of both are united by organic shapes done in a muted, naturalistic color scheme. They reach the same end, that is documenting the experience and changes of geology, by way of different means.
“In my work, paint echoes the geologic processes of deposition and erosion,” says Kaferle. “Gravity plays as much a role as direct mark-making. I reflect on the humbling vastness of our planet, the time scales over which this world changes, and the balance between its elements: sky, stone, water, life.” This description is evident in the chatoyant aspect of her work, where the painted canvas appears as a landscape and cross-section of stone simultaneously.
Kaferle’s current body of work has developed from years of plein-air painting in Helper. “The core of every painting is the initial wash, in which oil paint runs with gravity and redeposits itself — this wash has a feeling of stability, as it suggests massive landforms, but also transience in the way that it suspends the motion of paint pigment over the surface,” she says. “I am able to manipulate what feels like a natural process in an aesthetic way. I like to keep my mark-making minimal, just enough to support the composition.” Kaferle also incorporates a few stoneware and porcelain tiles and stacked structures, which dialogue with her paintings to suggest fractured stone found in the landscape.
Along with being an artist, Franson is a licensed Utah architect with a special interest in natural building and sustainable design. Her “Choke Stones” drawing series, one of the focal points of the exhibition, draws inspiration from rocks that become lodged slot canyons. Her circular compositions imply ideas of balance and imbalance, blockage and passage. She calls her work mandala-like, saying “the meaning of the word mandala in Sanskrit is circle. Mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe. The circular designs symbolize the idea that life is never-ending and everything is connected. The mandala also represents spiritual journey within the individual viewer.”
Similar to Kaferle, Franson exhibits accompanying sculptures, in which, she says, “the transformation of the rock is implied by the portrayal of life finding a foothold within its pockets and shelves. A testimony to survival in the starkest of places, the forms seem to want to carve away at their host, and allow it to pass.”
The works of both artists work in tandem to explicitly dialogue with the ever-changing geology of the earth and its interactions with human life. As Kaferle puts it, “it represents a reaction to and reverence for what I see every day in my local area at a particular time of day, time of year, weather circumstance … almost like a journal entry.” The thoughtful style of each artist offers the viewer a timeless, placeless quality. Prompting questions such as: Is this everywhere or nowhere? Local or global? Corrupted or not? As a whole, the exhibition prods at questions of survival, and connects contemporary art to pressing contemporary issues and concerns of our time — rooted in the unknown.
Anne Kaferle and Kadi Franson: The Poetry of Survival, Gallery East, Price, through Nov. 1.
Vasiliki Karahalios received her B.A. and M.A. in Art History from the University of Utah. Her research concerns Transatlantic art of the nineteenth-century and global contemporary art. She currently teaches classes at West High School and the University of Utah, and continues to write for 15 Bytes.