By Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
From The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.
Grenada makes its debut at the Trio Bienal, a new International art show set in Rio de Janeiro and focused on three-dimensional contemporary art in its full scope – ranging from sculpture and installation to other mediums acting as three-dimensional research. Inaugurated this year, it is showcasing the work of over 150 artists from 44 countries including two Grenadians, Susan and Asher Mains, alongside art superstars Marina Abramovic, Anish Kapoor, and Ai Wei Wei, amongst others. Susan and Asher are currently also on show at the first Grenada Pavilion of the Venice Biennale. In fact it was in Venice that they were scouted and selected to participate in the Trio Bienal by its director Alexandre Murucci.
Susan Mains is an established painter with a career that stretches over more than 30 years during which she has exhibited around the world and had her work included in numerous public and private collections. More recently, she has begun experimenting with mixed media – specifically video and installation. In addition, she is a patron and supporter of art in Grenada and runs her own gallery, Art and Soul, where she promotes Caribbean art. Her son, Asher Mains, has been exhibiting at the annual Arts Council show in Grenada from the age of 10. He works primarily as a representational painter and is currently exploring the significance of the materials used in a work of art, investigating alternative art materials sourced entirely in Grenada, with the purpose of giving a deeper meaning to his work and creating a more sustainable practice.
Both Susan and Asher presented installations which incorporated found objects and local materials, giving their work a strong link to their home island. The Caribbean aesthetic and language is something intrinsic for both artists, from the sea fans and sailing cloth in Asher’s piece, to the heliconia and dried spices in Susan’s – Grenada’s presence was felt strongly. Their proposals were remarkably humane and approachable, firmly rooted in the Caribbean and directly referencing the local culture and environment, but still equally accessible from a non-Caribbean perspective.
Susan Mains showed her piece in the main exhibition next to some of the most relevant names in contemporary art, including Ai Wei Wei and Vik Muniz. The exhibition, titled Utopia: Preterites of Contemporarity, was located in an underground hall at the Memorial Getúlio Vargas and brought together pieces with a political or social focus, confronting issues of war, migration, identity, and hope amongst others. Susan’s multi-disciplinary piece, What If, is a meditation on fragility and deterioration, based on her own experiences after undergoing serious back surgery. It consists of a video projected onto a make-shift bed laid on the floor, made from coarse crocus bags and surrounded by Grenadian spices. The bed is laid with a crisp white sheet and contained inside a mosquito net canopy. In the video, images of a heliconia flower are alternated and overlaid with original X-Rays from Susan’s own surgery.
The structure of the heliconia recalls the framework of the human spine and the resemblance between the titanium screws in the X-Ray and the heliconia flowers is startling. As the video progresses the flower laid on the woman’s back begins to decay, it speaks of the deterioration of the human body and our coming to terms with illness and mortality. The remarkable connection between the structure of the heliconia and the human spine inspires the viewer to question our relationship to nature and the development of medical technologies, Susan asks, “What if these natural forms could replace the surgical knife to heal a broken spine? What if human cells could be taught to imitate the stem cell differentiation demonstrated in the heliconia flower? What if tomorrow could be better by honouring what is already in our hands?” The overall effect is a tragic and beautiful montage.
Asher’s installation, Sea Lungs, is located at the IED (Instituto Europeo di Design) set on Urca beach at the foot of the famous Sugar Loaf mountain. The exhibition, entitled Reverberations: Crossed Borders of Three-dimensionality, brings together art of three-dimensional research. Asher’s Sea Lungs, for example, is an installation of hanging paintings, representing an intersection between painting and sculpture. Using stencils, spray paint, and a sea fan as a filter, a woman’s face is portrayed in various positions on the six canvases, her face bathed in light. The “canvas” is actually a piece of sail cloth, fixed on to simple wooden frames and hung against the light, creating a dazzling blue glow. Sea fans, collected from the beaches of Grenada after they have died and washed up on shore, are fixed on to the back of each frame, their silhouette and intricate details show through the cloth and resemble the human cardio-vascular system, giving a mysterious body to the detached faces and alluding to the intrinsic connection between all life-forms. Hung in the middle is a seventh frame, empty except for a single sea fan suspended within, representing death.
Asher reflects on the dying Caribbean reefs and in the last frame depicts the sea fan contemplating its own death. This object of nature is converted into a work of art, allowing the viewer to fully appreciate the beauty of its organic form and the importance of keeping our reefs alive. The effect is a moving and visually stunning piece full of light, delicate shadows, and gentle movement which evokes a figure swimming through water, reaching out to the light. It can be viewed from all sides, and from each point a new beauty can be appreciated – there is a dynamism to it, because it is always changing. It stresses the importance of our connection to nature and our environment, and as the artist says, it is “a reminder that our own life-force can be found in the sea.” Asher’s piece has a magical aura and holds a privileged position at the entrance of the building –the first thing people see as they enter the room, it sets the tone for a great exhibition.
Perhaps it is from being Caribbean myself, but Susan and Asher’s pieces felt like home – comforting and warm. Their work stood out not only for their energy and humanity but also for the high standard of the technical skill and conceptual foundation. There are only good things to come for both artists, and for Grenada as a whole. Asher has an upcoming residency in Bolivia and Susan is cooking up some interesting projects and collaborations to bring further opportunities to local artists.
The Trio Bienal, curated by Marcus de Lontra Costa, can be seen from 5th of September to 26th of November, 2015 in various locations around Rio de Janeiro.