Climate change is at the core of Marek Ranis’ work on view at Charlotte’s McColl Center for Art + Innovation in the exhibition “Arctic Utopia” (through Nov. 22). Visitors are exposed to the ways that the receding polar ice cap affects business, trade, indigenous peoples and our concept of time.
The newly renovated exhibition space, which feels much more open, allows for an enveloping show with large works, each a different telescope focusing toward the effects of climate change. The artist’s ideas are fully conceived, but more thoughtful presentation would have resulted in a more powerful communication of the show’s message.
The work is impressive in size and scale. Upon entering the building, visitors are faced with “Republika” (2014), a wall of gold foil, which stretches up to the height of the second-floor overlook. The thin foil (transparent in daylight) is dotted all over with white puffs, which look like an afterthought. Where the foil gathers on the floor, large bags of shredded money sit open and ripe for curious hands to rifle through. The piece is supposed to represent the rugged face of an iceberg weighted and sinking by potential financial gain.
The middle of the gallery is filled with “Islands” (2014), tables stacked and penetrated with dark gray iceberg forms. These signify how business transactions are altered by our changing climate. Orbiting them are chairs with seats covered by shredded money and stacks of books covered in decommissioned military maps. Visitors should take a seat and enjoy flipping through a compilation of old National Geographics, marked with colorful ribbon where images of spectacle (nudity) and the Arctic were printed. Ranis points out that the fault in promoting the exoticism is its instant appeal to individuals who seek to know its financial benefits.
Behind “Islands” a wall is covered lengthwise with “Survey” (2014), a giant collage of pastel military survey maps, saturated with drips from watery white paint swaths. The center shows a new golden polar ice cap, carved with sinewy lines; viewers can sense the greedy men waiting for their trade routes to melt into existence.
The “Arctic Utopia Series” is a set of wall-mounted Plexiglas pieces divided laterally with an image on top and a mirror on bottom. Digitally printed depictions of hooded traditional parkas face away from the viewer and toward their evolving industrial landscape, while the mirrors at bottom force the viewer into the work (“this is your problem too!”). However, the message is rendered ineffective; the mirrors curve to fit brackets that stretch from the wall, giving a distorting effect to viewers’ legs. The decision to mount these works as they are presented elicits a fun-house effect that brings a level of unintended absurdity to the work.
Lastly, a series of three 2010 films plays in one long loop: “Hold On,” “Wave Around,” and “Kivanrepu.”
The lesson here is that our own actions and desires are driving climate change. There is a lot to take in at “Arctic Utopia,” and not every aspect of this show is necessary; in honing down the presentation, the artist would have communicated his message more clearly. The show is by no means underachieving, and is consistent with recent presentations by the McColl Center, which has proven itself the most reliable source in Charlotte for challenging contemporary art.