If you haven't been to Colorado College's I.D.E.A. Space to see Industrial Scars, there's still time. (The gallery is closed until Sept. 5, but will reopen starting Sept. 6.) Just don't let it slip away, because this is a fantastic exhibit, from the frames out.
The basics are these: Environmentalist and photographer J. Henry Fair has spent years photographing vast scenes of industrial blight upon the planet from an aerial perch in planes and helicopters. The results are strangely beautiful shots of catastrophes, like the BP oil spill, or scenes from daily life, like enormous lagoons of fecal waste from industrial hog farms.
From above, these horrifying places glow in bright, attractive colors, or shimmer with a lovely iridescence. Many even appear microscopic, based on their detail. But the complexity hails from the other end of the spectrum.
Curator Jessica Hunter Larsen says the interplay between the viewer's initial attraction and eventual repulsion with these works is crucial to Fair's success.
“I think he’s really playing around with the true meaning of sublime, sort of beauty and terror simultaneously," she says. "And doing that deliberately to make people kind of live in a conceptual place, where we don’t want to live.
"He says it’s pretty easy to walk away from images of pelicans covered in oil, you know? There’s a place in your brain to put that. Rejection, or ‘We can wash them and it’ll be OK,’ and walk away. This sort of work makes people stay and think for a bit longer.”
Fair's diligence in the works even extends to the frames, which are simple slats of unvarnished wood. Hunter Larsen explains that the entire show came to the gallery in a single crate, with the prints rolled up in a tube and the frames built to lay flat and snap together upon installation. After the prints have laid flat for a few days, they are put inside the frames with a system of binder clips and rubber bands.
“… He’s trying to think it all through,” she says, noting that by avoiding Plexiglas (which contains petroleum) and glass (which is heavy to ship), Fair is trying to take it easier on the planet. It's a way, she says, for Fair to try offset the fact that his practice involves the heavy burning of fossil fuels — those low-flying planes come at an environmental cost.
“It’s tough, and I think that the smart activist will admit that no one’s perfect," Hunter Larsen says. "But you pick a few things you can do. If we all picked a few things, we’d be better off.”
Fair will be back to visit the I.D.E.A. Space on Thursday, Sept. 8 at 4:30 p.m. for a slide presentation and lecture titled "The Power to Change." On Friday, Sept. 9 at 4:30, Fair and members of CC faculty will host a panel discussion, "At What Cost? The History and Future of Resource Extraction."
For more on this show, including an interview with Fair, click here.