Monday, January 4, 2010

Joe Feddersen's Vital Signs

These are installation shots from Joe Feddersen's exhibition "Vital Signs" which closes on Sunday at the Tacoma Art Museum. The exhibition sings with the artist's poetry based on geometry and landscape. He celebrates ancient history as well as the contemporary land of today. The landscape of the Okanagan , shown in this detail of his wall mural of 500 separate pieces, is open and rugged. He refers to contemporary landscape destructions, like clearcutting, suggested in the brown triangles, and to geometric towers for the high tension wires that gallop across the open land in the center part of Washington State. The Okanagan is, for those who are driving to Spokane on the interstate freeway, a desolate empty landscape, made more desolate by the Grand Coulee Dam which was completed just after World War II. That dam destroyed the ancestral fishing streams of the Colville Indians, the Spokane Indians, and other tribes. There were no fish ladders at that time, the fish were completely unable to return to their spawning grounds.
Joe Feddersen is a Colville Indian. He comes from that land, it is part of him and his ancestors. After the dam was built, he worked for the power companies, a common occurance with Indians, whose only choice for a livelihood is the use of energy based on exploitation of their lands. But he knows those electrical towers, so when he includes them in a painting they are personal.
He has taught at Evergreen State College for the last twenty years and understands modernism, he understands color theory, his work draws on a sophisticated contemporary aesthetic, and materials- like the shining orange fish traps in glass, or the large vessels with reflective paint on which he has sand blasted the contemporary designs of parking lots and tire treads. In the exhibition he has also included some traditionally scaled woven baskets with tire track designs. He is commenting out of a deep silence and reverence, he accepts the present land, but he reminds us of where we come from, and suggests where we are now. He does not predict the future.
The exhibition has a curiously calming effect, as though we have gone into the landscape to meditate. I could feel his energy flowing through the exhbiition, as the various media, scale, colors, and geometries interacted. He is a master printmaker, a weaver, an artist of sand blasted glass. His connection to time immemorial is moving through all of the works. They are objects for sale now, not integrated with daily use, but they speak of their former functions. Since natives see our relationship to nature, to history, to prehistory, to each other, to animals as all part of a continuous non hierarchical flow of energy, these paintings and other objects suggest that idea as well. Abstract modernism has been re energized with its real sources of power in ancient abstractions.

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