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Message in a Bottle 

On his walks along the levee near his Riverbend home, Carlos Zervigon saw the river rise and fall with the seasons, rising precipitously with the melting snow up North before falling over the course of the long, hot summer. For as long as anyone could recall, the batture dwellers in their ramshackle houses on stilts have watched this same seasonal cycle, warily at times, as the cresting river came ever closer to their spindly homes. Surrounded by forests of rush willows, the batture houses looked fragile as birds' nests next to the vast, serpentine Mississippi. Yet, the sprawling city on the other side of the levee looked no less vulnerable when the river ran high. On his walks, he pointed out to his kids how the levee was all that kept the rising water from rushing into their home.

After a while, the batture dwellings came to epitomize that impression of human frailty in the face of overwhelming natural forces to such an extent that they began showing up in his work. A sculptor of glass and steel, Zervigon found himself creating hollow, house-shaped, blown glass forms nestled on spindly four legged pedestals. Delicate and diaphanous, they were icons of fragility as well as symbols of the human spirit's determination to defy nature and persevere in spite of it all. Yet, he wondered how he could explain his new work from a sculptural perspective.

Surely, this would require a lengthy artist's statement of some sort, he thought, as he pondered his upcoming show at Cole Pratt. But then Katrina struck. Zervigon and his family spent several months in Seattle, where he enrolled his kids in school. His show was rescheduled for February, and when he returned he decided that his artist's statement was no longer necessary. After Katrina, New Orleans' remaining residents would need no explanations about persevering in the face of overwhelming natural forces.

Raised House #1 is a blown-glass form elevated on four iron stilts shaped like spindly tree trunks. Nearly 2 feet tall, it might resemble a stylized model of a tropical jungle shack, but the hollow glass house-like form also suggests a bottle containing the implicit message of its own fragility. Along with forests and houses on stilts, pockets of industry are also found along the batture, sometimes remnants of very old industries seemingly in the process of devolving into the earth. Batture is a metal form like a spindly tree limb symbolically topped off by a large pulley, but in Jessica #1, a sinuous metal sapling tree rises from the wrist of a woman's hand, evoking a more mystical or surreal connection between nature and human handiwork. Levee House is different, a dark, house-shaped form rising from what looks like a muddy lava flow. Post-Katrina, it evokes the homes knocked off their foundations in the mud flats of the Lower Ninth Ward. True to the title Alluvium, the term used to describe land created by the flow of rivers, these works are among Zervigon's most poetically evocative creations to date.

As humans evolved, they literally drew a line between themselves and the natural world. Some of these lines or marks remain on the walls of caves, and lines, whether in drawings, calligraphy or printed type, still define the essence of human handiwork. Lines form grids that impose order on surfaces that hold mystical or worldly designs ranging from sacred geometry to the inner workings of microchips. If you tweak a plain, regular grid something happens to the nature of space and how we perceive it.

Robert Lansden's grids of maddeningly delicate hand-drawn lines of colored ink convey the expressive aspects of emptiness itself. All are untitled. One, a common grid similar to the pattern of netting used in crawfish traps seems to rise and fall around the edges like improbably ruffled rabbit wire. Some suggest abstractions of wind tunnels, mountain ranges or the gossamer structure of faerie wings.

Lines are all about abstraction. Lansden says they are aspects of human consciousness: "The mutual effects of horizontal and vertical becomes a system for experiencing the mysteries of the universe, self-discovery, and is the core of life." Something to keep in mind next time you go crawfishing.

click to enlarge Delicate and diaphanous, Carlos Zervigon's glass sculptures - such as  Raised House #1  are icons of fragility as well as - symbols of the human spirit's determination to defy nature - and persevere in spite of it all.
  • Delicate and diaphanous, Carlos Zervigon's glass sculptures such as Raised House #1 are icons of fragility as well as symbols of the human spirit's determination to defy nature and persevere in spite of it all.
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