September 15 - October 21, 2018
1078 Dekalb Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11221
Motel is pleased to announce "Southern Oceans" an exhibition by Rachelle Dang.
Dang’s work considers the implications of colonial legacies, looking specifically at European exploration of the Pacific in the late 18th century. Interested in the visual language of the Scientific Revolution, Dang traces the relationship between the rise of modern science and the expansion of empire to reveal the complex and layered narratives that fictionalize our understanding of the past and present.
For the show, Dang presents a number of sculptural works set against a panoramic wallpaper, which spans the entire gallery. The wallpaper is a reconstruction of Jean Gabriel Charvet’s Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique. Completed in 1806, the original work depicts inhabitants of various Pacific Islands as described by French and British explorers, most notably late 18th century expeditions of Captain James Cook. In the work temporally, culturally and geographically disparate populations are presented side-by-side, melded into a reductionist rendering. Executed with both a neoclassical and scientific aesthetic, the wallpaper reinforces romanticized notions of the "exotic" with a falsely definitive tone, reflecting the parochial perspective of those who helped author it.
For her reconstruction, Dang photographed 9 of the 20 original panels (housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) with her iPhone. The many snapshots were then digitally collaged back together - a compositing process that resulted in decreased image quality, shifts in coloration, and other gaps of information that reflect the unreliable artifice of the original. Presented panoramically, the imagery encloses the viewer with a nearly claustrophobic intensity, alluding to the relationship between surveillance and subjugation and the very act of indexing as a means of control.
Against this background, Dang presents a number of copper and ceramic sculptures, which focus on the exoticization of plant life and the history of imperial botany. A series of large-scale, copper shipping containers based on scientific drawings from the 18th century occupy the gallery floor. These elaborate vessels were designed to safely transport newly-discovered breadfruit saplings from Tahiti back to England to be studied and cultivated. Simultaneously prison and sanctuary, the vessels are suggestive of the treatment and transport of human bodies as commodities. Their painterly patinas are both beautiful and crude, the copper tones intersecting with acidic swirls, as if the material is being eaten away by a mysterious, alchemical corrosion. Scattered alongside these vessels are the breadfruits themselves, cast in ceramic in various states of ripeness and decay. These fluctuating fruits, frozen in their ceramic shells, embody the cyclical nature of biology and histories of ecological devastation.