Crystal raindrops fall on cozied umbrellas in MK Guth’s installation, “Terrain Change,” at Elizabeth Leach Gallery (419 NW 9th). Dazzling groupings of extravagant crystal chandeliers dripping with sparkling teardrops hang from the ceiling of the main gallery. The most lovely is clear, subtly shaded with yellow, pink, and white bulbs, others include cobalt and smoke. Below, eight umbrellas of all sizes—from parasol to patio umbrella—lean on the ground covered stem to stern with careful patchworks of cast-off sweaters and jackets. Knit tubes limply trail from the handles. The structural wood pillars of the gallery also are covered in tubes of reclaimed knits.
This wrapping is a futile attempt, sweater ineffective against rain and making umbrella too, ineffective (now heavy and unwieldy) protection from a beautiful rain that on the ground, in the near future may offer all kinds of trouble both in its abundance and in its absence. What to do? In times of uncertainty, we protect, even if our efforts at protection (e.g. ensuring that the umbrella stays warm) are irrational. We look back to more secure times (even if our remembrance of them is a fantasy). We make meaning where we can. It can’t be an accident that the Guth’s umbrellas reflect the current DIY aesthetic. History will look back on this age of knitters as one in which the individual built meaning and a sense of security via traditional making.
Too, there is the play off the opulence above and the abject below. If we are to think hemispherically, the Northern is bringing global warming on us all while the Southern will bear the brunt of the pain and dislocation it is to bring on.
It is rare that art can make the political personal without putting too fine a point on it. Too often the both the powerful and the poignant can have the wind taken out of their sales by strident didacticism or overdetermination. In contrast, Guth’s “Terrain Change” succeeds by remaining just ambiguous enough (she employs sweater not rain slicker, after all) that one is given the necessary room to consider.
In the second gallery, Guth’s video, “Allegory of Possible Hopes and Fears- I Will See You on the Other Side” is projected. A man (David Eckard) imagines a fairy tale in which he, as woodsman finds a mermaid (Ruth Waddy) on a snow-covered lake. Rather than heroically carry her, he drags her home. The actors are mute, their interaction flat, unemotional. It is as if the man is so paralyzed or powerless, he can’t even imagine himself into conversation or meaningful connection. In context of the installation in the front gallery, "Allegory" says re: the human condition, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.