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MERIDEL RUBENSTEIN The Volcano Cycle
Brian Gross Fine Art | September 12 – October 31
Poet Charles Olson advised his colleagues to think in terms of millennia, setting their local coordinates of place and history in the proper perspective. Photographer Meridel Rubenstein goes one better with her embrace of geological “deep time” embedded in Indonesian volcanoes. Part of a larger project, Eden Turned on its Side, the imposing digital photo works from The Volcano Cycle at Brian Gross unite science, religion, and art. Based in New Mexico, Rubenstein extends the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, who invoked local spiritual traditions in her images of arid landscapes. Likewise inspired by the photographs of Alfred Stieglitz, she combines the close-up with the distant, finding cosmic implications in the infinite depth of the perceptual world.
Rubenstein documents volcanoes in the “Ring of Fire,” centered on the island of Java, whose eruptions have impacted global history. Working with researchers from Singapore, she was able to visit these remote, sublime landscapes and record the life process of the earth in stark images of rocks and skeletal leaves, which she collaged and combined digitally. Most conventionally composed is her image of Kawah Ijen’s crater, which contains a lake of sulfuric and hydrochloric acids that wafts toxic mists across its blue-green surface, surrounded by barren brown walls. One is brought back to the age of eighteenth century explorers, to the origins of the sublime, yet Rubenstein’s photos are mounted on aluminum panels in a process of dye sublimation that lends them an industrial character. There’s a mirror glare that’s initially off-putting, yet traces of buffing on the surface echo the worn geological surfaces of the subjects themselves; the metallic images resemble daguerreotypes and connect us to the history of science and photography, to the sober ritual of recording natural phenomena that extends further back, to the dark mirror and alchemy.
By Jonathan Curiel Wednesday, Sep 23 2015
In the biblical tradition, the Garden of Eden is an idyll of plenty where, around 6,000 years ago, beauty and temptation surrounded Adam and Eve. Artists have employed everything from utter seriousness to comic relief in re-imagining this tableau of humanity’s beginning. On the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, Michelangelo depicts the couple’s expulsion as an epic and violent denouement (an angel pushes them out with a sword to Adam’s neck), while Robert Crumb, the subversive comic artist who first made a name for himself in the 1960s, has more recently depicted Adam and Eve having rollicking sex amid the greenery of Eden’s open air.
Fine art photographer Meridel Rubenstein has an entirely different take on Eden. In Rubenstein’s imagination, the garden symbolizes humanity’s balance with nature, and she’s taking its pulse by visiting locations that embody the arc of earthly existence. For her three-part series, “Eden Turned On Its Side,” Rubenstein has repeatedly visited southern Iraq’s marshes, which some scholars believe form the site of the biblical Eden. Rubenstein has also journeyed to the volcanoes that have dotted Indonesia’s archipelago since before the existence of humans. “The Volcano Cycle,” now on exhibit at Brian Gross Fine Art, documents her glimpses of this primordial landscape. In many images, Rubenstein cobbles multiple scenes into a collage, then reproduces the image using a process of dye sublimation on aluminum. The technique gives each art piece a reflective sheen that matches the intense photographic perspective that Rubenstein captures with her camera.