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CRITICAL REFLECTION

Lauren oLiver: ice Station QueLLette

PhiLSPace 1410 Second Street, Santa fe

It was a century ago, in 2051, that the ISQ team of scientists and adventurers arrived here—from another earth, just like ours, from another universe. Secretly setting up another outpost at the freezing end of our planet, they managed to do for ours what they could not do for their own—save our world, and then, infinite others. Their tragic story is now part of our story. —Lauren Oliver, text from her installation Ice Station Quellette

SO BEGINS THE PIECING TOGETHER OF A HISTORY OF ARCTIC EXPLORATION on planet Earth that quickly jogs around a corner to a planet

penguins, and ships devastated by pack ice were in fact

of-the-last-century explorer first meets a polar bear

that exists somewhere in a future not too distant from

aspects of science fiction as opposed to scientific fact.

by luring it with food; in the second image we see the

where we are now. It would be accurate to say that Lauren

Such is the nature of Oliver’s fusion of conceptual thinking

bear dead in the snow. But some of the photographs of

Oliver, the artist and designer of Ice Station Quellette, is an

and historical artifacts—she bends all the information to

polar exploration, taken out of their original context, are

explorer and an adventurer herself, weaving elements of

her will, elegantly compresses it, and then centers it on

extremely beautiful, as in The science team enters the

the real and the fictional into a carefully orchestrated and

the realities of our spinning planet-at-risk with its melting

terrifying ice cave for the first time.

complex whole. Her installation could be thought of as a

glaciers, shrinking ice sheets, rising sea levels, and the

pyramid scheme for the expansion of wealth—not wealth

intimations of immanent disaster for humanity. However,

was never held in check by its encounters with the

in terms of money, but of eco-consciousness. Building

if the artist’s prognosis for the future of our world seems

planetary sublime, meaning that exploration would

upon a base of vintage photographs from the early days

severe, one can always get lost in her fabulous wealth

never leave well enough alone. And here we are, at the

of Arctic exploration, Oliver has erected her conceptual

of images that touch upon not only what can be seen at

threshold of Oliver’s Ice Station Ouellette, pondering

pyramid so its peak reaches into the vastness of both

the poles with the naked eye—whales, birds, clouds, fog,

first encounters, treacherous weather, and gorgeous

actual and virtual space. If the viewer finds him or herself

ice—but what lurks under the surface of the water—

cloudbanks, and toying with the various figments of the

projected onto an imaginary planet, it is in fact replete

zooplankton and phytoplankton, another kind of organic

artist’s imagination—a complex taxonomy of time, place,

with all-too-familiar environmental concerns and a terrain

formal beauty, and part of a delicate balance in the food

and human interventions. What has been done cannot

that is instantly recognizable. Only Oliver’s creation of the

chain rapidly going awry.

be undone, only acknowledged and judiciously wrestled

Exploration,

and

subsequent

development,

Space Owl, in both two and three dimensions, is an alien

Experiencing the fictional Ice Station Quellette,

to another plateau of meaning. Or, as another line in

being—a strange attractor that broods over the visual

established somewhere on another planet after our own

Oliver’s text states, “We had no idea we were living in

proceedings and dispenses a compelling yet telepathic

history has imploded, the viewer has to contemplate

the past tense.”

wisdom about what must be done to produce an uptick in

the edges of disaster, but Oliver doesn’t quite push us

Post Script: Ice Station Quellette will become a

our collective consciousness.

over into an abyss of apocalyptic ice and snow. This is

permanent installation in the new space dedicated to

Most of the work in this installation is in the form

a what-if situation, and the artist implies that we have

work of the Meow Wolf collective.

of two-dimensional images—some of them original

the choice to act and that there is still time to do so.

—diane armitage

pieces by Oliver, such as the five-part painted mural The

Oliver’s intricate conceptual terrain has its own magnetic

intricate, interconnected polar web, depicted in bright colors

north compelling us, for example, to savor her archive

to dissuade one from concluding that the world is crumbling

of vintage images—some subtly heart wrenching, as in

as we carry on laughing. Not all of the individual pieces in

the photograph The Violent and Troubling History of the

this show have such long titles, but the one belonging to

Conquest of the North Pole—a diptych where a turn-

Lauren Oliver, Explorer imports “civilized” hierarchy to befuddled penguin population, archival digital print of found image, 6” x 6”, 2015 Lauren Oliver, The elusive Aptenodytes Fiori flies the coop, archival digital print, 32” x 42”, 2015

the mural is a kind of summary statement concerning the artist’s overarching theme. Many of the other images are appropriated from the history of polar exploration and, in Oliver’s hands, their new incarnation extends their fascinating origins, giving them an intensely mysterious aura—as if some of the first encounters with polar bears,

august

2015

the magazine | 63

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THE magazine - August 2015 issue  

THE magazine is Santa Fe New Mexico's magazine of international art, photography, culture, and restaurant dining.

THE magazine - August 2015 issue  

THE magazine is Santa Fe New Mexico's magazine of international art, photography, culture, and restaurant dining.

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