Blake Gopnik continues his Venice Biennale-inspired tour of the artistic horizon in the Washington Post isolating the artists and work he thinks are significant. Today it’s John Gerrard who creates computer generated facsimiles of reality and nature:
Gerrard has taken a massive warehouse (used in winter to store boats), cleaned it up, blacked it out and filled it with three huge screens where he’s projecting his works. In “Dust Storm (Dalhart, Texas)” he shows a terrifying dirt cloud sweeping across the Texas Panhandle. The scene is based on how a farm there looks today, but Gerrard’s inspiration came from one of the few surviving photos documenting Black Sunday, the great storm that hit the region on April 14, 1935. “Darkest dark I ever experienced,” an anonymous Dust Bowl photographer scrawled on the back of his picture. Gerrard found the image online, then set out for the United States to explore and record the landscape it came out of.
In “Grow Finish Unit (near Elkhart, Kansas)” Gerrard shows us a view of 10 computer-controlled pig barns. Each gleaming, almost unmanned structure is used to “grow” and “finish” 1,000 pigs before they’re trucked off to slaughter. In the half-dead fields outside the buildings, we see the pools the waste is piped into. As we look on, we begin to feel complicit in the mechanized porkicide to come. But as one visitor to the show pointed out, we also may identify with the animals because the industrial structure we’re standing in reminds us of the hogs’ Stalag-like pens. (Gerrard speaks of a “fascism of efficiency.”)
In “Oil Stick Work,” Gerrard shows us a barn and silos where the pigs’ feed is processed and stored. Perched on a lift beside the barn, a lone artist methodically rubs a black oil stick (a kind of extra-greasy pastel) onto the building’s walls. Gerrard has calculated that it will take his worker 30 more years before he’s finished blacking out the structure, making it register as a big box of nothingness on the sun-drenched landscape.
Each of these works appears to be real but is not. And in the emphasis on artificial reality, Gopnik asserts, Gerrard is making a more insightful comment on real world problems and conflicts.
A Most Animated Eco-critique (Washington Post)