Mia Feuer’s latest installation, Mesh, is, at the time of this writing, disintegrating. Or, more accurately, what’s breaking apart is Mesh’s centerpiece: a lumpy, unidentifiable form laid out on the floor of Locust Projects, a gallery in Miami. Suspended above and bound up in straps is a motley assemblage of what looks like chunks of concrete, blocks of crystal formations, plastered-over jugs. At the very top is a bottle of blue liquid, emptying drop by drop via a clear vinyl hose that snakes through it all.
It’s a bit nightmarish, if a nightmare can also be poignant. The tubing and the monitor-shaped cubes and the suspended liquid (that blue stuff looks toxic; indeed it’s what is dissolving the amorphous form) are all vaguely reminiscent of medical apparatus, no longer hooked up to the patient. Disconcerting, too, are the watery sounds coming from a pair of speakers hanging from the ceiling’s corners. Every so often the speakers emit a thunderous rumble or crash or boom.
If your only takeaway after an encounter with Mesh were a sense of irremediable loss (if, in other words, you hadn’t read anything in the way of wall text), plus wonderment at how that sense is made palpable by a sculptor’s handling of materials, that would be meaning enough. But like Feuer’s other recent works, including An Unkindness—a monumental installation from 2013 featuring a black ice skating rink above which hung a 30-foot-wide conglomeration of tree trunks and pipes and feathers, among other objects—Mesh is also a global, high-stakes elaboration of that core meaning. For what propels Feuer’s work is a concern for the alteration of landscape due to climate-changing human behavior, especially our production and consumption of oil.
In fact the form on the floor, about five feet long, is a life-size salt replica of a portion of southern Louisiana coastal land. Visiting Louisiana last December, Feuer, a Canadian-born sculptor based in Oakland, California, went out on the bayou with a local fisherman. She saw houses and telephone poles under water. Also partially submerged was a forest of oak trees, standing but dead, likely killed by the inflow of saltwater. Perhaps it says something about the rate of land loss in the region—80 percent of coastal land loss in the continental United States takes place in Louisiana, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—that Feuer’s GPS indicated she was on solid ground. Meanwhile, dolphins swam by her boat.
It’s not just Louisiana coastal land that is eroding in Mesh, however. The sounds coming from those speakers are of melting ice and calving glaciers (look again: the replicated landform could double as an ice formation), a terrifying event that Feuer witnessed in 2013 while on a sailing expedition to the Arctic Circle. Recorded via hydrophone in Hornsund Fjord, Svalbard, the sounds have distinct signatures that help scientists understand glacier dynamics, says Grant Deane, an ocean acoustician at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Feuer’s collaborator on Mesh. (Don’t miss the Terrain.org interview with Deane.) For the installation, Deane devised an instrument that distinguishes the calving events from the rest of the underwater soundscape, whereupon it triggers the release of that blue liquid—an indigo aniline dye.
Underwater Noise, Hornsund Fjord, Svalbard, 2013
Mesh is not just a web of materials, then; it’s also a web of geographies. In addition to the southern Louisiana bayou region and the Arctic, the work intends to reference the very locales in which it’s being exhibited: currently, the aforementioned Locust Projects in Miami, a city on the front lines of sea-level rise, and the Esker Foundation in Calgary, Alberta, the economic center of the Canadian tar sands. Same sounds, same dye drip, same land replica, though hovering above the Esker Foundation’s landform is not the blocks of concrete and the jugs and the crystals but a moss-draped tree trussed up with a conveyor belt.
About the materials: they’re not often what they seem. Esker’s tree looks real—it’s covered in actual bark from those dead oak trees—but it’s made of concrete and steel. Other components, like the conveyor belt, are made of Styrofoam or from other petroleum derivatives. When it comes to the consumption of these environmentally harmful products, Feuer includes herself among the guilty. Her materials—everyday materials we all consume in one way or another—fuel her research and deepen her engagement with the most vulnerable of landscapes.
ARTerrain Gallery | Mesh By Mia Feuer
Materials list: Mesh is made up of Styrofoam, Rockite cement, metal, papier-mâché, polyethylene carboy, indigo blue aniline dye, solenoid, vinyl tubing, PVA glue, salt, MDF, paint, cast driftwood sourced from the Arctic Ocean, and Spanish moss (at Esker only) and cast bark sourced from the bayous of Pointe au Chien, Lousiana.
Underwater Noise, Hornsund Fjord, Svalbard, 2013:
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About the Artist
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Mia Feuer received her MFA in 2009 from the Department of Sculpture + Extended Media at Virginia Commonwealth University. She has received grants from the Manitoba Arts Council, the Winnipeg Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Lila Acheson Wallace/Reader’s Digest Foundation.
In 2007, she traveled to the West Bank to facilitate sculptural research and workshops with Palestinian children. Since then, Mia has received fellowships from Vermont Studio Center, the Millay Colony, the MacDowell Colony, and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art and Sculpture Space, among others. Mia was a 2011 District of Columbia Center for the Arts and Humanities fellow and won the 2011 Trawick Prize and the 2012 Joseph S. Stauffer Prize. Mia conducted sculptural research during the 2011 revolution in Egypt, and in 2012 and 2013 she gained unprecedented access to the Alberta tar sands of Fort McMurray.
In 2013, she participated in an arts and science expedition to the Arctic Circle, and in 2014 she was a visiting artist at the Banff Centre. Her solo exhibitions include FLUX space, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Transformer Gallery, Washington D.C.; Arlington Arts Center, Arlington, Virginia; the Firehouse Gallery, Burlington, Vermont; the Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center, Atlanta, Georgia; CONNERSMITH Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Goodyear Gallery in Carlisle, Pennsylvania; RAW: Gallery of Architecture and Design, Winnipeg, Manitoba; and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Mia lives and works in Oakland, California where she is an Assistant Professor of Sculpture at California College of the Arts.