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BY HILARY STUNDA | November 2, 2010 | Lifestyle
Up Drop by Aurora Robson
Twister by Aurora Robson
Chaos vs. Order by Aurora Robson
The helicopter looks like a small toy. Delicate white propellers and a blue tail pop against the molten blue-green ocean. An unleashed swirl of oil spreads like broken blood vessels. This surreal image, photographed in natural light, suspends the viewer in both beauty and disturbing reality.
Aspen’s 212 Gallery recently exhibited “Spill: Crude Response,” combining the work of Daniel Beltrá’s conservation photographs and Aurora Robson’s sculptural installations made from waste-stream plastics.
The gallery partnered with The Baum Foundation on the project, with 10 percent of proceeds benefiting Project Kaisei and the Greater New Orleans Foundation to help clean up plastic and oil from the ocean. In addition to documenting environmental damage in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere, the exhibit marks the evolution of 212 Gallery’s programming. “It took four years to build up the credibility to do a program like this,” says owner Katie Kiernan. “People have to know they can trust what you’re showing them. They have to trust your perspective.”
Flying at altitudes over 3,000 feet, Beltrá witnessed the devastation that almost 5 million barrels of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill wreaked on the Gulf of Mexico, logging 40 hours and shooting 27,000 photos for the project. One of the world’s preeminent conservation photographers, he’s traveled the world to document the environmental crises of tropical deforestation, the Amazon drought and melting ice caps, and he recently won The Prince’s Rainforests Project Award.
Pointing his camera out the window of a Cessna floatplane, Beltrá minimized body contact with the aircraft, which could vibrate and mar the perfect shot. “Up in the air you see the magnitude of the damage” he says. “The extent was so vast, it’s like trying to clean an Olympic pool full of oil while sitting on the side using Q-tips.”
Below him, helicopters hovered and barges rested amid oil slicks with black plumes rising from flames. “At first there was denial, but soon the magnitude of the catastrophe was too overwhelming to be ignored,” he explains. “Not only is this the biggest oil spill at sea, but we’ve made it a chemical experiment of unknown consequences by dropping two million gallons of Corexit, a toxic dispersant, into the waters.”
For almost all the exhibited photographs, he used a polarizer, making it possible to see the oil below the surface. As a result, all is bared, and what was hidden becomes highlighted. The water surface is patterned like a leopard’s skin, the result of the massive quantity of chemicals. Beltrá, however, isn’t depressed by the damage. Rather, he’s invigorated. “There’s nothing more gratifying for me than hearing from viewers, ‘What can I do to help?’ Photography is a powerful tool that can really have an impact.”
hen asked if one image compels him most, he mentions a shot of a group of pelicans waiting to be cleaned. “Even in their adversity they are beautiful and elegant,” he says.
Framing adverse circumstances with beauty is also how Canadian visual artist Aurora Robson unleashes her creative vision upon reclaimed plastics. Across the room from Beltrá’s photographs, a light blue and green twisted sculpture is on display. Like a fantastic sea creature captured in a net, it is shocking in its novelty, yet familiar in its organic form. Moving ever so slightly, the 68-pound sculpture Up Drop hangs in tangled ethereality, layers of plastic joined by tiny rivets. Since 2002, Robson has intercepted 45,000 bottles from the waste stream, turning them into art instead of having them arrive in landfills, oceans or the environmentally costly recycling process.
Carved, cut and twisted, her creations are objects of beauty; once you understand their content, they amaze. They also expose the destructive path of consumerism. Robson is currently creating new work from discarded bottles and caps made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate, which most soda and water bottles are made from) for a large-scale solo exhibit at the Skybox festival. Sponsored by the city of Philadelphia, it was recently unveiled during Design Philadelphia.
“When people walk by and see Up Drop, the first thing they think is, ‘What is that?’” says Kiernan. “When I tell them, they’re so fascinated by the visual jewel that their hearts, their ears, everything opens up.”
“Sometimes presenting something that is terrible in a more interesting and artistic way can make the difference in getting people to look at it,” says Beltrá. “After all, this is our house. We need to take care of it.” 212gallery.com