At the entry to the Young at Art Museum, Andrew Nigon has installed half-deflated balloons and cotton-candy clusters, suggesting a celebration — but one that's ending.
It's a metaphor for life on Earth.
Sea levels rise, natural disasters strike, people are born, people die. Yet the planet keeps spinning, with or without us. Faced with this bleak, stark, and incontrovertible reality, reactions could range from fear to woe to... absurdity.
"Counting Backwards" is an experimental media showcase featuring four contemporary artists — Samantha Salzinger, Margi Glavovic Nothard, Andrew Nigon, and Jillian Mayer — who ponder the world's demise and our own. But their work is presented in such a fluid and playful way that the matter of failed civilizations doesn't seem entirely gloomy and morbid, although the artists' reactions are tinged with disillusionment. The first 50 people on opening night November 9 were gifted with "apocalypse kits" that included fake extra fingertips.
The exhibit may seem like strange fodder at a place designed primarily for kids, but the Bedlam Lorenz Assembly, sort of a "young friends" alternative projects group, has been planning more cutting-edge programming at the museum. (Bedlam Lorenz curator Zack Spechler, also an attorney, is the son of museum founder Mindy Shrago.) With Young at Art deep in debt to the county (the museum borrowed $11 million and was supposed to repay $1 million per year but was recently granted new repayment terms of $350,000 over 40 years), perhaps it's best for the work to appeal to a broader audience. A kids' show about superheroes is showing simultaneously.
Promo materials explain that "Counting Backwards" is full of "surprise occurrences that celebrate 'the beginning and the end' " and that the exhibit incorporates "bold visions of post-humanity, escape plans, and consolation prizes for making it this far that are simultaneously saccharine and haunting." Interactive pieces take advantage of the "funhouse corridors" of the museum.
Jillian Mayer's film #PostModern, which was a hit at Sundance, takes viewers on a wild and hilarious ride through a telephone hotline in which tickets are sold to enter a sculpted vortex installed in the museum — that leads to who knows where.
Samantha Salzinger made dioramas of earthly and outer-space terrain. These are so meticulously built that upon inspecting her large-scale photographs of the landscapes, viewers instinctively think they're real. That mind-bending experience is part of the fun, Salzinger says. Destroyed civilizations have been on her radar for quite a while.
"I've been intrigued with the extinction of man ever since my visit to the American Museum of Natural History in NYC in 2006," she says. "Before all this talk about the Mayan apocalypse in 2012, there was all this attention that we were all doomed in 2000. I think since the turn of the century, there's been a lot of tension about natural disasters — tornadoes, lightning storms, and tsunamis — and what's to come.
"Disasters are also about control," she continues. "I was thinking about control when I created my dioramas, because not only can we not control disasters; we sometimes don't even know if a tornado is about to rip through our lives."
Margi Glavovic Nothard, the architect who designed Girls' Club, Young at Art, and renovations at Museum of Art|Fort Lauderdale, presents works that are concerned with the human impact on natural resources, especially water. In addition to abstract landscape photo collages and a series of drawings, her "Groundwater Project" is an installation inspired by the retention pond outside the museum. Her installation consists of glass vials filled with gray, black, and potable water. It also includes a viewing space at the retention pond — not a stereotypically "beautiful" environment — so onlookers can contemplate how valuable these man-made landscapes are in managing water levels.
"Ninety-three percent of our potable water is from groundwater, which is essential to the function of society," Nothard says. "When there's a flood, retention areas capture the water, and few understand the importance of this. When we think about it, we walk on water because of the high water table in Florida."
Curators Ben Morey and Zack Spechler say a secret event will be held around New Year's to close out the show. "We want to keep things vague about the closing, like a secret society would," says Morey.