More than 800 years ago, a sprouting Douglas fir tree pushed its way through the cool, moist soil of the Pacific Northwest. It grew tall and mighty before dying decades ago, but remained standing until it was finally felled. Cross sections of it now appear in Joseph Rossano's Whitewashed expo. Visually minimal yet elaborate in scope, Whitewashed probes the mysteries of life, death and extinction. For instance, The Basking Shark (pictured) is an ancient vegetarian shark that can grow as big as a yacht. Slaughtered for their fins — for soup — the sharks face the destruction that wiped out the great auk and other extinct species. Like most Rossano creatures, the shark is rendered in tar and juxtaposed with a cross section of the fir tree, whose rings are nature's time markers. Both are whitewashed, but the tar bleeds through like a dark, viscous afterimage: even whited-out species leave an imprint. A drawer on the side holds a color graph like a minimalist composition that is actually the shark's DNA code. Rossano avoids sentimentality, so these works are stark reminders of what people have done and that we can only wonder what further mortal implications those deeds portend.
The Siberian tiger, like most large mammals in Asia and Africa, faces extinction because humans value its body parts as collectibles. Like the other wall sculptures, Rossano's piece of the same name has drawers and cellphone QR links with additional information, and the show features video explorations of color DNA codes as well as television's history of depicting nature as a sentimental commodity.
It was those mute creatures facing, or lost to, extinction that made me realize how closely connected our lives are to the faraway Polar Bear, whose icy habitat is rapidly melting. Like them, we live in a place that is washing away beneath us because of destructive industrial activities, and we are only slowly realizing that the same bell that tolls for them increasingly tolls for south Louisiana as well. — D. ERIC BOOKHARDT