Sean Slemon : Katrina and the Five Boroughs

Sean Slemon : Katrina and the Five Boroughs
November 3 – January 15, 2005

In this exhibition, Katrina and the Five Boroughs, Sean Slemon counters the common misconception of the hurricane as a spectacle of chaos and disorder. Although a hurricane wrecks bedlam when it encounters land, it is caused by an extremely organized system formed from specific conditions that are far from casual.

Intrigued by the capricious nature of hurricanes, and of man who seems incapable of learning from nature, Slemon, through his plywood installation, questions the identity of Katrina and the social disparities she revealed. His choice of plywood, a pedestrian material, references its use in constructing buildings all over the USA, similar to the ones that shattered like matchsticks in the wake of Katrina. Slemon cuts the plywood sheets into islands that come together in a loose semblance of an abstracted aerial view of the hurricane’s currents as viewed from satellite images. Isolated forms gravitate around the central eye of the storm. Layers of the plywood, which vary in width and length, are stacked into small mountains, reflecting the depth and height of each area of precipitation. Slemon carves these forms to suggest the pauses and thrusts of a hurricane gathering speed, and a sense of unbridled motion charging through space. At points the rough hewn plywood is elevated from something humble and unwieldy, to a precious, delicate formal mass, evocative of sand-colored malachite.

Though these objects are interesting in themselves as formal, reductive sculptures, Slemon’s concerns go beyond the aesthetic. He links the much commented upon social inequalities and injustices that Katrina magnified, generally hidden beneath a cosmetic understanding of modern American life, to our own city, through his images of the five boroughs. Slemon’s classically rendered line drawings and lithographs channel cartography and topographical borough maps into a wry, calm formalism that belies the loaded subject matter. The message here is that this gruesome disaster could happen in New York, or in any other state in the US, and the same social problems would be brought to the fore, and couched in the same superficial understanding of modern life, which seems to serve us so well.

Slemon is a joint winner of South Africa’s 2005 Sasol New Signatures Competition, and was presented with the Judges Award. He was awarded a commission for the first Spier Biennial in 2001 and served on the committee for Visual Arts Network of South Africa. He recently arrived from his homeland, South Africa, to complete an MFA at Pratt Institute.

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