Judging by the view through the windows, the Contemporary Art Museum on USF Tampa’s campus has been converted to a murky swamp, an ideal home for the monstrous alligator that lurks above the viewer with its scaly tail and arms dangling near our heads – too close for comfort. It’s a good thing we learned how to run away from alligators as children.
IF YOU GO
Gallery Talk with Artists Hope Ginsburg and Anastasia Samoylova
Friday, Jan. 17. 6 p.m., opening reception at 7 p.m.
Free, open to the public.
USF Contemporary Art Museum, 3821 USF Holly Dr., Tampa.
Show runs from January 17– March 7
Alas — fear not my fellow Floridians! This striking scene, an installation by Anastasia Samoylova, is what greets visitors to the museum’s upcoming exhibition, Sponge Exchange + FloodZone, two solo exhibitions with artists Hope Ginsburg and Anastasia Samoylova, curated by Sarah Howard. Both shows address themes of human engagement with the environment – or vice versa – in a manner that is timely and sublime.
Ginsburg’s Sponge Exchange features two new video and sculpture installations borne out of a collaborative process. Her new four-channel video Swirling was created with diver-videographer Matt Flowers and composer Joshua Quarles, produced with support from the Wexner Center for the Arts Film/Video Studio Program, captures the submerged world of coral farming and reef restoration at the coral nurseries and outplant sites of St. Croix.
Her show also features dioramas produced by students in a class she taught last fall with USF Associate Professor John Byrd, assisted by MFA student Maxwell Parker. “This diorama project left it open for students to take different approaches to the issues our climate is facing by using humor, irony, metaphor, horror, and more. They could deal with their chosen topic in a creative mode of their choosing so there’s a range of where their projects lead them, ranging from proposed solutions to stark realities to surrealist representations,” Ginsburg explained, “Hurricane Dorian was slated to move through Tampa during the first week of classes, too, so it felt like we were producing art where the issues we’re addressing were coming true.”
Making something for a museum exhibition provided a real-world reward for their semester-long efforts, but Ginsburg hopes the class catalyzes her students to produce more socially-engaged art in the future. “Collective learning is a fundamental part of this show, as is collaboration,” Ginsburg emphasized. “Collaboration is a key component in addressing climate change, for example in getting countries to work across borders to combat a common problem.”
Ginsburg’s Sponge Exchange pairs nicely with Samoylova’s show FloodZone, an ongoing series of photographs that highlights the fragility of the built environment in the natural world.
The Moscow-born artist moved to Miami Beach in 2016, which was the hottest summer on record at the time (a statistic surpassed annually) and started uploading images of her environment to Instagram with #floodzone, a reality of her seaside utopia. “Seeing Miami plastered with constructed images made me realize I didn’t need to construct any further, it is already designed,” Samoylova told CL, “So I was just responding to this environment, which was so hot and unlike anywhere I’ve ever lived before.”
Samoylova endured Hurricane Irma in 2017 in her Miami Beach residence, unable to evacuate despite the mandatory imperative due to gas stations running on empty and flights being unavailable. “I couldn’t do anything, and I felt so small,” she recalls, “That’s when it really sunk in that this is inevitable, this ever-increasing risk of destruction is a predicament of the future.”
“Climate anxiety is real; there’s no escaping it in coastal towns and especially not in Miami Beach, but it’s complicated because you also can’t deny the beauty of the landscape. The areas least considerate of the natural landscape are suffering the most from their own destruction.”
This friction between land, city, and sea, and the anticipation of nature reclaiming itself in minute or massive ways, is at the heart of Samoylova’s photographs. Her images are layered, meant to be seductive and beautiful while warranting further contemplation below their surface.
IF YOU GO
Exhibition Panel Discussion: “Rising Above: Art and Climate Resiliency”
Saturday, Jan. 18. 11 a.m. Free, open to the public.
USF School of Music Conference Center, 3755 USF Holly Dr., Tampa.
Howard, the show’s curator, notes, “These artists bring a balanced view of our relationship to the natural world: Hope [Ginsburg] brings to surface the underwater while Anastasia [Samoylova] deals with how the ocean is inundating the built environment. They provide an overview of issues but maintains a level of locality so viewers can feel these tangible aspects.”
“When you look at these climate crisis issues in Florida-based ways, you realize our economy is at stake here, too. The tourism industry and real estate market is all affected by our environment, and both show here tap into those underlying topics.”
I anticipate a compelling exhibition that illuminates several facets of Florida’s chaotic dichotomy between human and nature, a show that accounts for a multitude of nuanced consequences of civilization’s role in the development of our landscape. Bring a friend and dive in.