Letter to the Editor: “What’s Next” Review

The most recent exhibition at Kohl Gallery, “What’s Next,” features five artists who have bravely visualized controversial and substantial topics present in today’s America. The opening of the exhibition fell less than a week after America’s most recent Presidential inauguration, which cultivated resistant attitudes and opinions in people, not only throughout the country, but all over the world.
This recent shift in politics has sparked significant social unrest. The daunting question of what comes next for the fate of the country has inspired these artists to put their work forward in the context of social, political, racial, and environmental commentary.
The works of Larry Cook and Carolina Mayorga inspire thought on the stigma and categorization of non-white citizens in America. Cook’s “Some of my best friends are Black” plainly conveys these words with glowing white neon lights floating atop a dark background. These stinging words pierce the viewer’s senses, making them all the more poignant. Mayorga uses performance in her video “Maid in the USA,” in which the viewer watches as a woman wearing a gaudy uniform scrubs and sweeps a floor in an endless, silent loop, crouched and cramped into a small space reinforced by a low and close-up camera angle. Mayorga showcases a stereotype and expectation of Latina women working in America, and the ways they are often viewed as working objects as opposed to human beings. Christie Neptune plays on the human tendency to categorize ourselves in her performance video, “Pulling at My Labels,” in which she attempts to confront and break down the social stigma associated with the many “labels” she is assigned, including those of a black female artist.
Other works from “What’s Next” include Rachel Schmidt’s installation “Nostalgia Monument: Float Trip Edition” and four photographs by Ben Marcin. Schmidt’s installation is both playful and serious in its suggestion of a future without nature, creating a sort of “nature monument” meant to educate the public on ways in which people once enjoyed the outdoors.
With this, Schmidt is visualizing a fear of what is next if environmental policies are ignored and humans destroy the very environment from which humanity stems. Marcin’s photography makes an impact by putting into frame four real places in America. The isolated, destitute quality of each of the buildings in his photographs makes the viewer think of what has been lost between the past and present, as well as what lies ahead for those who’s identities have been intertwined with these places.
The question is a complex one; what is next in the harrowing story of American history. This show is successful in creating diverse representations of issues which consume people’s thoughts today. In addition, the artists have directed their creative energies into prompting productive and forward-thinking ideas in those who view their work. While the current political climate of America seems daunting to many, we can see light in the way that this friction has ignited action and independent thought in those who are looking towards the future.

Madison Shenk

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