Seether: Alexandra Hammond, Jackie Slanley, Virginia L. Montgomery (VLM)
March 11th – April 19th, 2022
Named for Veruca Salt’s 1994 grunge hit, Seether is composed of artworks by Alexandra Hammond, Jackie Slanley, and Virginia L. Montgomery (VLM) that invoke resistance and rebirth through themes found in nature and myth. Channeling the song’s femme defiance, their messages of endurance and possibility take aim at the nihilism of weaponized “traditions” that threaten us all. A narrow storefront, somewhere between a mineshaft with its rough wooden ceiling and a womb with its pink marble and glistening mirrors, BEVERLY’S packs the works into a—yes—seething mass of affirmation and protest that throws off all kinds of sparks. Those energies blossom into Dionysian revelry every Friday from 7pm to midnight when BEVERLY’S becomes a nightclub, bringing alcohol, lighting, and a DJ into the mix.
Hammond conflates her personal history with the myths surrounding this country’s westward expansion towards her native California. How the West Was Won (2022) places two gold nuggets on the wall. From each extends a rod pointing up and out into space, with a painted silk banner of a rattlesnake skin fixed on its tip. The ironic title cannot help but recall notions of Manifest Destiny, the supposedly God-given right of the United States to grab land west of the Mississippi for profit and glory. The nuggets, of course, refer to the 1849 California Gold Rush, which laid the mercantile foundations for what is now the world’s fifth largest economy, while the snake skins hold associations from Hammond’s childhood as well as metaphors of rebirth. The nuggets and the skins make a study in contrasts: animate versus inanimate, industry versus nature, the personal versus the monetary, and more. Hammond unpacks the contradictions at the heart of her beloved state to ask: what does “winning” mean for California, or the rest of the country, which has so often followed California’s lead? Given the threats of deteriorating ecological outcomes and rising income inequality, the question demands an answer.
Slanley makes laser cuts in plexiglass sheets using templates she creates out of Illustrator files. She then combines the cut sheets into symmetrical assemblages that resemble multi-layered Rorschach tests. The assemblages appear at once delicate in their fine detail and threatening with sharp points bristling around their edges. The many facets of those artworks made with transparent plexiglass reflect and refract light to add a gem-like quality to these objects. Arthropod 1 (2022) is a gorgeous piece made in blue plexiglass that resembles water where its parts overlap with the greatest density. The source material for the laser cuts of this work appears to be images of winged insects, perhaps butterflies, with deep incisions around the edges that give the impression of flames. Slanley chooses her Illustrator files from historical sources of archetypal images: dragons, lions, birds, flowers, and the like. The fact that these images have always informed narratives of the collective human imagination points to a set of basic yearnings that tie us together. For Slanley, this provides a hopeful basis for unity and renewal, a power of resistance against the forces that sow distrust for political and economic gain. Arthropod 1 speaks to the universal narrative of resilience and regeneration exemplified by the change from chrysalis to butterfly, a process that features prominently in VLM’s videos included in Seether.
The front of BEVERLY’S has an installation of sculptures by VLM that resemble stone-age weapons but are in fact based on her very long ponytails. In the back, her videos, O Luna (2021) and Butterfly Birth Bed (2020) capture the emergence of moths and butterflies in stunning close-ups. Butterfly Birth Bed shows a miniature shaker-style bed with multiple butterfly pupae strung across its bedposts. VLM intersperses time-lapse footage of adult butterflies struggling to escape their cocoons with satellite images of a hurricane. Towards the end of the video, VLM introduces a hole saw that bores through the eye of the cyclone’s image, a formal device simultaneously playful and disturbing. By combining the delicacy, strength, and beauty of the butterflies (particularly clear when their wings unfurl) with both the implicit destruction of the hurricane and the actual violence of the hole saw, VLM plays on a range of emotions including hope, fear, surprise, and wonder. The artist has stated on her website that this video is a meditation on the “Butterfly Effect,” a principle of chaos theory first enunciated by MIT professor Edward Lorenz. Chaos theory counters the Newtonian vision of a mechanistic universe with radical complexity, a world view of ever-new possibilities that Seether thoroughly embraces. Amen.