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Art exhibit addresses humanity’s uncertain future in lighthearted way

The Art Gallery (TAG) at UWF is currently displaying “All That Was Bright,” an exhibition that aims to address human influence on the world. Envisioning alternative stories with playfulness and humor, while upheld by a deep awareness of loss, this exhibition reconsiders our relationship to the natural world through fiber art, sculpture, and interactive installation.

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Transformed into a timeless space in which the human form is decentralized and steeped in animism and folklore, the gallery features work by New Orleans-based fiber artists Jacob Reptile, Jane Tardo, and Basqo Bim. Inspiration for this exhibit comes from the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” an ancient flood story that tells of the destruction of the world.

“The three artists in this exhibition negotiate loss, destruction, and power through storytelling,” said Cat Gambel, director of TAG. “There is a deep awareness of our uncertain future in the Anthropocene. There is also humor and joy in their work.”

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the king, a mythical, larger-than-life man, finds a plant that will grant him immortality. Jacob Reptile’s featured “Forever Plants” represent large fiber plants and fossils made from recycled materials, including clothes, curtains, couches, packing material, cardboard, and electrical wire. Reptile is interested in reclaiming discarded objects to give life to a potential alternative future, and his art aims to explore our relationship with flora.

Hunter Morrison
WUWF Public Media
One of Jacob Reptile's "Forever Plants"

“The recycled materials are drawing you in, making the plants a part of your life,” Reptile said. “The soft sculptures are realistic yet puppet-like versions of plants you already love. In ‘Forever Green’ I am creating an immersive greenhouse to act as a portal into a fun, soft, plush world where your house plants are thriving and full of joy. Not to mention, the materials are also happy to survive, as they were previously doomed for the landfill.”

Reptile’s body of work in this exhibit focuses mainly on water plants. Growing up in the coastal south and concerned with rising tides, his work aims to celebrate the world that humans pretend not to be a part of but destroy so easily.

“I hope the new material forms inspire you to rethink the world you traverse every day,” Reptile said. “I see these plants as beings, from everyday materials, that shouldn't be wasted but appreciated for as long as possible. All the plants are potted in parts of pants, and the ‘Butt Planters’ often make viewers smile and giggle, animating the plants to become closer to human. In a full cycle approach, much of the clothing’s fiber even came from plants originally.”

In the Epic, after discovering the immortality plant, a snake slithers off with it, leaving Gilgamesh to grapple with his own mortal body and contemplate how everything we build will turn to dust. The snake can be represented in Jane Tardo’s “Snake Tube Adventure Racing,” the world’s first textile virtual reality remote control tube car racetrack.

Hunter Morrison
WUWF Public Media
"Snake Tube Adventure Racing" by Jane Tardo

Designed to be an interactive spectacle, the work is an absurd reflection on the frivolity of contemporary living, competitive distraction, and joyful disassociation during ecological collapse. It was inspired by a passage from the Invisible Committee’s book “Now.”

“The quilted dioramic installation, check-in booth, self-guided tour pamphlet, and gift shop represent and depict the reality forecasted for life on our compromised planet,” Tardo said. “The game-like experience seeks to prompt deeper consideration of the condition of disconnection and manipulation experienced within a society overseen by persuasive marketing and green-washing by mega-corporations.”

Participants of “Snake Tube Adventure Racing” can race with up to three players, using their phone to record or livestream a virtual experience of the race for live audiences. The remote control moves through 24-feet of quilted track composed of bright scenes, which on closer reflection, portray apocalyptic imagery.

Basqo Bim’s work featured in “All That Was Bright” includes six masks and one sculpture that are ‘anachronistic and timeless, found in some hazy space between the almost-recognizable and the irreconcilably surreal.’ The figures negotiate an alternate world that moves between cultural and folkloric references. They are human-like, but also not human.

Hunter Morrison
WUWF Public Media
"King Pecueca" by Basqo Bim

“The masks, and more specifically the characters that they represent, are the nascent manifestations of the world I am building,” Bim said.

Each of the masks are mixed media, taking anywhere from 40 to 100 hours to create. They aim to reflect folkloric and mythic knowledge, bridging geographies and cultural inheritances.

“My favorite one is the largest piece, 'King Pecueca,'” Bim said. “It pulls from a lot of influences, all of which are from children's books and television programs. I hope that folks feel a child-like curiosity when they see this character, and I hope that it tugs at the nostalgia within them.”

In essence, “All That Was Bright” aims to build a world that is enchanting and unearthly, asking us to consider how and where we belong in a posthumous future.

“I hope people will thoughtfully reflect on our interactions with the natural world and on our role in the post-Anthropocene,” Gambel said.

“All That Was Bright” will be on view at UWF’s TAG Gallery until March 2. Featured artist Basqo Bim will also be hosting an artist talk at TAG on March 2.

TAG is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. in UWF building 82, room 235. For more information about The Art Gallery (TAG) at UWF, click here.

To see more of their work, be sure to follow Jacob Reptile, Jane Tardo, and Basqo Bim on Instagram.

Hunter joined WUWF in 2021 as a student reporter.