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Water Scrawls

Soledad Salamé Moves Into Liquids With Her Rich New Show

OUT IN THE WASH: Soledad Salam?'s "Baltimore" and "Venice (below)."
OUT IN THE WASH: Soledad Salam?'s "Baltimore" and "Venice (below)."

By Deborah McLeod | Posted 1/23/2008

Soledad Salamé: New Geographies

At Goya Contemporary through Jan. 26

Almost 20 Niagara Falls high, Venezuela's Angel Falls cascades down in a seraphic white veil from the Auyantepuy "Mountain of Evil" to the Canyon del Diablo. There it turns tannin red from flourishing phytoplankton and flows outward like a wound in the earth's crust.

Named one of the Wonders of the World, this extreme place embodies all of the mythology, mysticism, and science required to witness the confluences of oppositional forces present in the vast allegorical content of water. In New Geographies, Soledad Salamé--herself a native of Chile's rain forest region--begins the cautionary narrative of her latest work from the sanguine base of Angel Falls.

"Amber River"--a monumental landscape triptych introducing this installation--advances its symbolism by flowing forward beyond the fragile ecosystem of the rain forests, across continents, oceans, and mountain ranges. It ultimately seeps under everyone's door. This painting particularly prompted Salamé's inquiry into the exigency and peril of our troubled waters. The results of that new concern became the quietly prophetic delicacies of this Goya Contemporary show.

"Amber River" is a landscape in the conventional sense, its horizon culminating in the agitated meeting of earth with sky, here a place of pale exhausted relief to quiet the middle-distant red stain and churn of Venezuela's Churun River. New Geographies takes to the air for the rest of its works. These works on paper and Mylar are mappings--or, perhaps more so, they propose omniscient views, data telecast from outer space where present and future are another matter altogether.

Salamé's experiments with a number of different print processes provide the unfamiliar, eerie--but also precious--surfaces of these luminous mixed-media views of port cities in a state of semi-inundation. Appropriated maps of urban design and desecration are swamped by random glistening surface-tension patterns of water borrowed from the artist's earlier experiments with dye sublimation prints on aluminum. The places survive in bits and parts, with harbor and street configurations looking fractal in their mysterious industrial repetitions, or like ice crystals under a microscope. Swirling around the edifices are mercurial ripples, splashes, and bubbles, creating highly seductive, inordinately beautiful patterns amid the chaos. The two deluged cities that Salamé turns her attention to for Goya's galleries are Venice and Baltimore.

Salamé's point of view is floating overhead, and it captures evidence of potential menace disguised in dark clouds. "Cloud Map" and "Cloud and Stars" are etchings that look into the eye of the coming storm. What it reveals--in "Cloud Map" particularly--is an unsettling, somewhat demonic array of preternatural forces peering out of the swirling air masses' puffs and crevasses. Boschian bird faces, Goyaesque specters, and/or William Blake's angelic apparitions gather together to suggest the cloud's composition and presence as an object of necromancy or divination.

"Antarctic Reflections," a separate series in the show, is rendered in acrylic and graphite. On long horizontal scrolls of Mylar, pale, creamy blue-gray glaciers float in their own reflections over a repeating stencil of the mathematical Koch snowflake pattern; this famous fractal subtly swaths the entire Mylar sheet like a pierced Islamic jali screen. Salamé's gentle intervention of physics, cultural traditions of outer and inner sanctuary, and the majesty of nature give her unstable, indifferent subject a cold serving of psychosomatic dimension. The additional surface treatment of shimmery marble dust applied to the acrylic paint makes the scrolls nearly magical without taking it too far.

Salamé has only 10 works in the gallery, and most of them are subtle in their formal properties, but they are rent with such intensity and potency that they fill your consciousness like a glass of water placed in the freezer. A half a glass full of water grows to such a proportion within that to have put more in would be to risk the glass. The New Geographies works are just like that glass of water--so unassuming if you aren't interested, so beautiful if you are thirsty for them, so baptismal if you allow them to wash over you and give you their insights.

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