In the exhibition STANDING WITHSTANDING, Wanda Koop presents a selection of works encompassing some of the major themes of her career. A clear path emerges, connecting a video-installation presented at the 2001 Venice Biennale to a body of paintings made this year. While Koop’s references are specific – the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, an albino gorilla, a SpaceX rocket launch – the ethereal and minimal compositions of the paintings take on a universal, timeless character. Painted with thin washes of indigo, lavender, and mauve and accented with neon orange and electric pink, the series features Koop’s unfussy, confident mark-making and her personal lexicon of symbols. Depictions of earth, air, fire, and water are complicated by traces of heavy industry and the social, environmental, and emotional costs of ravenous development.
Installed in an intimate viewing room at the back of the gallery, the video loop Gorilla (2001) is projected down into a pool filled with water showing Snowflake, an albino gorilla that lived at the Barcelona zoo. Upon hearing of its existence, Koop was on the overnight train to see him. From hours of footage it became clear that Snowflake’s behavior displayed the repetitive, anxious quality of highly intelligent animals in captivity. He would splash around in a small pool before going to hide in his enclosure. A few other movements in between masked this repetition for onlookers only briefly seeing the gorilla, but upon longer inspection his torment was unmistakable. Footage condensed into a 30-second loop amplifies Snowflake’s fixated actions. The video renders his splashing and subsequent withdrawal into an infinite cycle, his magnificence reduced to a set of movements out of and into resignation.
A small recent painting at the entrance of the gallery depicts a gorilla on a muted green riverbank guarding a large orange flame. Presiding over both the entrance and darkest corner of the space, the animal’s two appearances turn the gallery into a loop of its own. As visitors make the rounds from front to back and out again, there appears to be little difference between the movements of Snowflake in his enclosure and ours in the gallery. “We are nature,” Koop remarks, “and we are doing this to ourselves.”
Some paintings in the exhibition point to the damaging effects of colonialism and development on the landscape and its inhabitants, while others celebrate the elegance and beauty of human inventions like towering urban skyscrapers. A painting of an oil refinery titled Northern Alberta (2017) ambiguously looks both looming and majestic. Despite taking on polarizing political and environmental themes, the exhibition shows the issues as complex, resisting the pitfalls of black and white ideology. “It’s all horrific and fantastic at the same time,” Koop explains, “all of these elements are us – we’re fragile, we’re beautiful, and we’re terrifying.”
by Anna Kovler
Wanda Koop’s STANDING WITHSTANDING is on view at Arsenal Contemporary New York from May 1 – June 17, 2018.
Wanda Koop, Gorilla, 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16” x 20”.
Wanda Koop, Gorilla, (shot in 1991, presented during the 2001 Venice Biennale at the Thetis Foundation in the Arsenal, and recreated at Arsenal Contemporary NY 2018). HD Video, plexiglass pool, water. 80” x 53”
Wanda Koop, installation view of STANDING WITHSTANDING at Arsenal Contemporary New York.
Wanda Koop, Northern Alberta, 2017. Acrylic on canvas. 40” x 30”.
Wanda Koop, Dusk Blue + Brilliant Orange, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 40” x 30”.