Callicoon Fine Arts, January 9 – February 15, 2015
49 Delancey, New York, NY 10002
We enter into a sparse setting. Four large sheets of paper are stretched taught like the Vitruvian Man, reaching out as a sail tied with nautical knots and suspended between floor and ceiling, independent of the wall. Text seems to alternately appear and disappear as I shift while scanning the lines, relatively invisible against the varying grey tones of the four squares framed by the stark white of the paper. Drift by Caroline Bergvall – now on view at Callicoon Fine Arts – reveals itself slowly.
White dots form a strange constellation on a dense black wall – the outline of a zodiac raft – referring to a horrific event from 2011 by which migrants from Africa, directed first to Tripoli, were cast adrift by their human traffickers and deserted by an assortment of fishermen, surveillance vessels and aircraft patrolling the Mediterranean Sea, who spotted the distressed vessel but failed to respond to this dire S.O.S. Like the crew of the vessel Medusa, made famous by Géricault in 1819, dozens of passengers crowded a raft ill-equipped for its voyage…and, also like the Medusa, only a handful survived.
These are the invisible. The forgotten. Los desaparecidos. Boat people. Desert people. Invaders. Castaways on an overcrowded raft, drifting abandoned, left to die. Un scandale!
Suspended from the ceiling in the center of the gallery is a pair of headphones. One transmits an objective narrative: a section from the forensic report on the Left-to-die boat that was released in April 2012. The other a subjective narrative of lost reckoning: the artist’s intimately layered interpretation of an Old English poem, The Seafarer, as a journey into the primal fear of abandon and abandonment…as Bergvall narrates: to be completely lost, to be lost, to be without reckoning.
While the visuals present a scarcity bound to principles of uncertainty, the vocals – Bergvall’s voice – connect us to the impulse of risking death in order to live. For Bergvall, language comes to meaning only through the simultaneous evidence of image and sound. She began her career as a poet, which then led her to vocalization and performance, and finally she folded visual art forms into the mix. The gallery installation is, in a sense, an alternate manifestation of her text – Drift – published by Nightboat Books in 2014. Drawings from the publication are on display in the back gallery. Though Drift can be read in one sitting, I recommend the slower momentum of reading aloud. Voicing the visual. Sounding the depths, the dead reckoning. Giving account to the losses.