Reflections is a site-responsive installation that utilizes sculpture, light, film, sound, as well as performed and embodied text.
As a term, reflection refers to both imagery and perceptions. Here, these themes also evoke the allegory of Plato’s cave, where people turn their backs on reality to see the world as its shadows, as illusions. Instead, this installation stages a cavernous space as a site for sensitizing viewers to the reality of their built environment and broad environmental dilemmas. Coal revolutionized our contemporary reality and human history. Nonetheless, more than any other energy source process activity, the mining, washing, transporting, burning, and disposing of coal, damages the environment. This fossil fuel tears up land, removes mountains, contaminates rivers and causes acid rain. It is one of the main sources of lung disease globally and the largest human contribution to the atmospheric greenhouse effect. The impact of coal far exceeds that of our individual electricity bills. Indeed, coal’s expenses are not only monetary because its uses take a toll on all of us—most especially those dependent on the coal industry and the least privileged and most vulnerable among us.
Unpacking the history of this exhibition site, Irini Miga invites us to contemplate the passage of time as we view the Chute Space. Her work adjusts our eyes to the idiosyncrasies of these surroundings as a former storage room for coal.
On the short Super8 film, Longevity Was Not a Priority in The Autonomous Region of Light, we encounter a still life with a burning candle in front of a poster depicting wild horses. Such props are evocative of Americana and the exhibition space’s past use as not only a coal chute, but also a place for fixing horse carriages. Connecting the depletion of our natural resources and the periled status of the coal mining industry, this work conjures vanitas, a genre of still life that centers on perishable goods and symbolizes human greed as well as the fleeting character of human life. Playing on notions of ephemerality, the grainy quality of the video casts a moment in the present as one that belongs to the past.
A suspended wall with ceramic inserts, Marks and Dents Were Always Part of This Picture, outlines select contours of the guts of a brick surface. Nodding to the visual language of coal’s various manifestations, the inserts contain anthracite dust. A hole in the backside of the wall makes visible a faint flickering light reminiscent of burning raw material.
Hanging from the pipe, a suspended lamp sheds light onto a bowl with hand-sculpted ceramic gloves and rocks. This beaming assemblage, Contracted by Light, recalls the arduous task of collecting coal in dark mines while gesturing to the accidents there that have cost countless human lives.
A mop stands alone as a domestic element. As a sculpture, You Talk the Language of The Soil, speaks to the labor of cleaning the space and the ever present danger of wiping away the past.
In a broken and unannounced way, a performance activates text during the opening. Spoken through the mouths of youth, the sounds of words will live momentarily and fade. The space and its visitors will absorb the audible text. Mixing past, present, and future, these sonic elements will act as seeds for further consideration.
Miga grew up in Greece, a country on the line between the perceived East and West, where the distant past, present, and desired future coexist; so for her, seeing things through a prism of constant symbiosis became a norm early on. As a female, immigrant artist living and working in the United States, she finds humble, anti-monumental gestures and giving value to the minor and otherwise neglected of immense importance. In her practice she creates constellations of traces that ask for close examination. Marks of performative actions and traces of leftovers form a distinct understanding of what spatial identity or marking of time could be. Miga is interested in the way that we navigate and perceive our environments; in the language of objects that surround our everyday reality; in the dialogues and shifting relationships of axes such as time, physical space, form and utility; sculpture and painting. The implications of the Chute Space’s history compelled Miga to creatively acknowledge complicated environmental challenges of the past and present.