Published December 17th, 2023 by Bridget Kranz
Exhibitions by Atefeh Farajolahzadeh and Ethan Aaro Jones encourage viewers to slow down and reflect on a world in constant movement
It’s a time of year when many people are thinking about home. Traveling home, missing home, visiting a home that’s changed since last time, or making a new home for the winter. If you’re in Minneapolis for the holidays, there are two exhibitions on view at Soo Visual Arts Center that invite reflection on how the places we love evolve, change, and fit into a wider picture.
On one side of the gallery, in An Unsearchable Distance, Ethan Aaro Jones’s photographs frame man-made structures in the middle of vast natural landscapes. The infrastructure is in various stages of decay. There’s a waterfall overlook still very much in use, across from a series of pylons in water with no bridge. The structures in Jones’s photographs are swamped by the natural world around them — a natural world these structures are occasionally attempting to change or control.
On the other side, in Presence and Absence, Atefeh Farajolahzadeh has constructed two light installations and a series of three interconnected videos exploring transition, especially in the context of human migration. Much like Jones’s man-made structures, Farajolahzadeh’s human subjects are placed in an environment full of moving forces.
How does the world around us shape our actions and their outcomes? How do we attempt to navigate and make a home for ourselves when so many forces are outside of our control? These are questions invited by both exhibitions, which speak to each other over the gallery wall.
The series of photographs on display in Jones’s show was inspired by the search for the Northwest Passage, which turned out not to exist, at least not as one straightforward sea route. The futile search is echoed in a series of paths ending in uncontrollable bodies of water, much like the ocean on which Farajolahzadeh’s boats float.
The colonial context for the Northwest Passage expeditions is echoed in the structures we’ve continued to impose on a landscape with which they are often incompatible or detrimental. As Jones writes in his artist statement for the show, “The contemporary landscape is now riddled with structures that have fallen into disrepair, been reused, and haphazardly preserved — creating a real sense of ineffectiveness in such earth-shaping efforts.”
Ethan Aaro Jones, At the End of Beebe Avenue, 2017. Image courtesy of SooVAC.
Jones’s photos look at the decay of these man-made structures. Many of them appear utterly solid, constructed of concrete and stone. When they fail, it’s often due to a misunderstanding or disregard for the natural landscape around them. Jones shrinks them within this larger landscape.
He also shows the way these objects remain. Even when they’re no longer being used, they mark our landscape for better or worse. It’s a quieter reflection on the passage of time and greed. Instead of almost gleefully eerie photographs of the inside of an abandoned mall, roof caving in, Jones captures abstract remnants within a natural landscape, highlighting the push and pull created between humans and nature.
Installation view of An Unsearchable Distance. Photo by Bridget Kranz.
On the other side of the wall, Farajolahzadeh focuses on the movement of humans within and across landscapes. While Jones was inspired by the search for an imagined sea route, Farajolahzadeh explores water as a transitional space in Where the Boats Go #2. Paper boats illuminate and go dark on the gallery floor as a projection of moving water plays behind them.
“[I] wondered how water, as a medium between lands, could be expressed as both a peaceful and unsettling space,” Farajolahzadeh writes in her statement for the piece. The changing lights in the boats — alternating between lit and unlit — represent a “constant struggle for survival” with cycles of hope and despair.
Atefeh Farajolahzadeh, Where the Boats Go #2, mixed media installation. Photos courtesy of SooVAC.
In the other installation, Remnants of Home #1, the outline of a home remains while bricks are scattered across the floor. Although the gallery is darker on this side, the blue light of the house’s outline reveals what look like family photos pinned under the bricks. Debris has been tracked into the gallery, a reminder of how often a home is taken away against the inhabitants’ will. But even then, memories — like the photos — remain.
Presence and Absence also features three video works designed to have the viewer spend time with the work. Each video has a set of headphones, and all three films are connected. In the first, No Answer, the narrator has recently moved far from where they lived. Close to the beginning of the film, we’re in a car traveling on a scenic highway, the kind of video you’d take out the windshield on a road trip. Then, the video transitions; the highway footage is now being projected onto the wall of the narrator’s new apartment. We’re watching them watch it.
There’s an intimacy to being drawn into the narrator’s world. Like Remnants of Home #1, the video hints at memories persisting even when we’re no longer in the place where they happened, or even when that place no longer physically exists.
Installation view of Presence and Absence. Photo by Bridget Kranz.
In an interesting connection to Jones’s work, No Answer begins and ends with the city where the narrator lives. In the opening, the person is shown reflected in their apartment window, slightly obfuscated by the buildings we see beyond. At the end, we see just the city in motion: cars moving one behind the other down the streets, people walking past each other on the sidewalk. The narrator is shown as one piece within this larger environment. Having spent the intervening film inside of their apartment, it’s jarring to pan out to a faceless city, one with so many windows into so many lives like the one we just saw. But again, both artists place their subjects — inanimate or animate — within the context of their environment, an environment that changes even as we’re forced to change with it.
Wherever you are for the holidays — home, far from home, preparing to travel home — the two shows are an interesting reflection on both the intimate sphere of our lives and the often-uncontrollable world around us. It’s an opportunity to reflect, both inward and out, ahead of the New Year. ◼︎
Ethan Aaro Jones, Lockport, 2021. Image courtesy of ethanaarojones.com.
An Unsearchable Distance and Presence and Absence are on view through Dec. 23, 2023 at SooVAC. Gallery hours are 11am – 6pm Thursday and Friday, 11am – 5pm Saturday and Sunday. For more info, visit soovac.org or follow them on Instagram at @soovac.
Banner image: Atefeh Farajolahzadeh, Remnants of Home #1, 2022. Photo by Bridget Kranz.
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
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