Two new exhibitions explore the Brandywine and cosmic distances
By J. Chambless
The video 'highwatermarks' plays continuously in a gallery at the Brandywine River Museum.
By John Chambless
The Brandywine River Museum has taken a
big step – two big steps, actually – with cutting-edge
exhibitions that incorporate video and contemporary art.
The museum is world-renowned as a repository for works by the Wyeth family and artists of the past, but last week, “Dylan Gauthier: highwatermarks” and “Ana Vizcarra Rankin: time/scale” moved the Brandywine in a new direction.
In a darkened third-floor gallery, visitors can take a seat and immerse themselves in “highwatermarks,” a video displayed on two walls of the space. Gauthier spent his year as an artist in residence at the museum exploring the relationships between the Brandywine River and the communities it passes through, and the result is a 70-minute film that uses natural sounds and scenes captured along the river's course. There's no narration, and the pace is contemplative, but the stunning images and enveloping soundscape are captivating.
The film – shown on a floor-to-ceiling screen that's 60 feet long – captures all four seasons on the river, stretching from the headwaters in Honey Brook Township, through Coatesville and Chadds Ford, to Wilmington, where it feeds the city’s public water supply before merging into the Christina River and the Delaware River. Along the way there are unexpected detours to a gritty mushroom farm, as well as the rolling estates along its path. Water trickling through culverts and under bridges is examined just as much as a frog perched on a stone, goats munching grass in a field, and the iconic Kuerner Farm. There's no narration – just a chance to see the river in a whole new way.
At a celebration of the exhibit on Oct. 10, Gauthier, a Brooklyn-based artist, curator and writer, said he knew very little about Chester County before coming here. He's now clearly in love with the region – even after filming and editing some 100 hours of video for the project. “This is definitely the largest site-specific work I've done,” he said. “It started with making sound recordings of the area, before I recorded the video.”
The visual component makes “highwatermarks” an unconventional love letter to the region. By combining river views that are unchanged since the 1800s with the orange-tinted glow of the interior of a mushroom house, or the whoosh of cars passing over a bridge, Gauthier said the film “is about depicting the area in a positive light, but it also adds some layers to that, with some places that don't come to mind when you think of the Brandywine.”
Gauthier laughed and said, “I ended up with a lot of dogs and horses” in the raw footage, but has successfully pared the film down to a point where visitors can enjoy stopping in for a few moments, or sitting still for the whole experience. It distills the Brandywine experience elegantly.
“highwatermarks” continues through Jan. 7. On Nov. 1, Gauthier will present an artist lecture reflecting on historical currents of environmental art in the region, and sharing research conducted with Brandywine Conservancy staff over his year-long residency.
Meanwhile, on the museum's second floor, a gallery has been devoted to “time/scale,” the first solo museum exhibition for Uruguayan-American artist Ana Vizcarra Rankin. Curated by Tina Plokarz and Kerry Bickford, the exhibition displays 23 large-scale paintings and hand-crafted collages of astronomical constellations and world maps, reflecting issues of humanity, globalization, migration and scientific exploration.
In the gallery on Oct. 10, Rankin offered intriguing insights into the exhibition, in which familiar world maps are first turned upside down. “There's no 'up' in space,” she said, smiling, “and the show is a reconsideration of biases we have that are shown in phrases like 'Everything went south,' for instance.”
By inverting our accustomed viewpoint, Rankin is able to draw on the timeless nature of the stars and constellations, while questioning the divisions we place upon the planet.
In the center of the gallery floor is a large red circle, which was inspired by the red-shift phenomenon as light moves away from our viewpoint in the universe. “When I tried to paint stars on the surface, the red kept sucking up the white and black paint,” Rankin said. “So, if you could map the energy of the universe, this would be the result – a red mist.”
Rankin said she invites visitors to form their own conclusions about her works, which are firmly based in star maps of the past and scientific fact, enhanced here and there with her own input. In one collage, an inverted map shows Antarctica, which Rankin has renamed Aukberg, based on uk-uk, which is an indigenous word for penguin. And she has renamed the bays along the coast of the continent. “Instead of the names of all these male explorers, I thought I would use names for whales, like Baleen Sea, Selky Sea and Narwhal Sea,” she said.
She was drawn to Antarctica because, “it's the only continent on earth that has never seen war, but it's melting” due to global climate change.
Rankin's paintings are multi-layered and open-ended, and the exhibition is a blend of scientific fact and artistic fancy, of tiny details and unimaginable distances, of folklore and recent history. These vibrant, sketchy paintings will stretch your imagination in the best possible way.
The exhibition, curated by Philadelphia Contemporary, continues through Nov. 5. Ana Vizcarra Rankin will discuss the show on Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. in the gallery.
The Brandywine River Museum of Art is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, $6 for students and children ages 6 to 18; free for children 5 and younger. For more information, call 610-388-2700 or visit www.brandywinemuseum.org.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email email@example.com.