Between the Waters
Mar 9–July 22, 2018
This exhibition brings together artists from across the United States—Carolina Caycedo, Demian DinéYazhi´ with Ginger Dunnill, Torkwase Dyson, Cy Gavin, Lena Henke, and Erin Jane Nelson—whose work responds to the precarious state of the environment through a personal lens. Experimenting with form and narrative in painting, video, and sculpture, these artists address how ideology—as much as technology, industry, and architecture—impacts all living things.
Though each contends with facts or histories that are real and observable, none takes a documentary approach. Rather, these artists adopt a highly subjective position, embracing emotion, intuition, spirituality, and myth to help understand our intrinsic place within the “natural” world. They share the sense that scientific, or “rational,” thought can reinforce a limited view of our planet and its inhabitants—one that assumes they can and should be controlled.
The works on view present a wide range of subjects, from the controversial transformation of New York in the mid-twentieth century by city official Robert Moses to the affirmation of a vital Indigenous presence in the face of institutionalized colonialism. They draw from distinct visual traditions, including Southern handcraft, sixteenth-century architecture, history painting, and hard-edge abstraction. Through their varied interests and formal approaches, all of these artists assert the relevance of individual experience and perspective to address concerns that are global in scale and effect. In the words of artist Torkwase Dyson, this exhibition is not just about “the way we connect...but understanding also the waters that are between us.”
The exhibition is organized by Elisabeth Sherman, assistant curator, and Margaret Kross, curatorial assistant.
Major support for Between the Waters is provided by John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation.
This exhibition is part of the Whitney’s emerging artists program, sponsored by
Generous support is provided by Jackson Tang.
Between the Waters is about individual voices each speaking on a series of relationships that could be described as ecological: between the land, the forms and ways of life that exist on the land, and the systems of use or governance of the land. The artists whose work is included in the exhibition—Carolina Caycedo, Demian DinéYazhi´ with Ginger Dunhill, Torkwase Dyson, Cy Gavin, Lena Henke, and Erin Jane Nelson—assert that our personal beliefs and ideological values cannot be separated from the material reality of a changing Earth. As they describe in this roundtable discussion, they also resist the categorical terminology and methodologies of rational systems of thought, instead looking to emotion and spirituality as alternative methods to consider the relationship between the natural world and ourselves, in which we are neither in control nor completely eclipsed, neither anthropocentric nor post-human.
Hear from the artists
Narrator: On January 10, 2018, the artists in Between the Waters got together for an online roundtable. You can find an edited transcript of their conversation on whitney.org. Here, we’ve woven together some of the thoughts they shared.
Torkwase Dyson: To talk about what it means to be on a planet where the water is constantly in a state change, and then making paintings that have to do with the color and the state change of light and the physical sciences, is what I'm trying to think about through the work.
Demian DinéYazhi´: This whole video is about about migration, indigenous identity, and these ideas that surround your homeland.
Erin Jane Nelson: I've been documenting along the southeast coast, because I feel like it's this place where European colonialism and racist white supremacy is becoming consumed by the ocean again, and being swallowed up by the climate change that its hubris is put in motion.
Lena Henke: I think I'm interested in more interchangeable landscapes, where the relationship between the viewer and the physical foundation of urbanism becomes visible for the viewer then.
Demian DinéYazhi´: I think of my work more as a framework for heading toward language that is already on its way to being fully formed. A lot of the trans and queer community has this language. A lot of intersectional communities are building upon this language, so the work is more in conversation with that.
Erin Jane Nelson: It is about my imagination and speculation and contending with histories. I’m hoping that it’s not one where it’s all about my desires for these spaces.
Cy Gavin: My experience of Bermuda was reactionary in some way to my religious upbringing and becoming disabused of a feeling, like something made in God's image, and actually feeling that I'm of the environment.
Carolina Caycedo: I prefer the word "sustenance" for my work. I think it has to do more with support and nurturing.
Lena Henke: Culture and nature are like equal parts for me, and, therefore, I'm interested in this kind of impact on the environment. And then especially going over to the body, which I would probably translate into something which I would call sculpture.
Carolina Caycedo: I participate in activism through art making, through the construction and the deconstruction of images. That's what I know to do. I guess, also, to make art for me is like the way I'm a citizen, too. It's the way I participate and build society.
Torkwase Dyson: The reason I make the work that I make is to understand a systemic order around state changes as they happen, as we deal with our planet. What that means is, how as humans begin to interact—to form or use or participate with our natural environment—how do those things, then, support our lives?