Shawn Skabelund explores ecological and cultural destruction using materials gathered from forests in Virga at Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff.
Shawn Skabelund: Virga: Beneath the Sierra sin Agua
September 17–October 29, 2022
Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff, Arizona
Echoes of life and death reverberate throughout the gallery at Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona, where artist Shawn Skabelund uses bark, acorns, pollen, sap, pine needles, leaves, logs, and other materials to convey the beauty of forests while decrying the violence in their midst.
An octagonal installation (Beneath the Sierra sin Agua, 2022) centers the exhibition, where faint cottonwood imagery made with ponderosa pine pollen set in circular saw blades suggests not only the inherent mysteries of the landscape but also the yellowcake uranium powder wrought by extraction.
With Wandering Angel (2022), a taxidermied coyote appears to survey the pointed forms of dead agave leaves arranged in a tight semicircle, suggesting ecological interdependence. In 1,785 (2022), four crow specimens hover over a grouping of 1,785 water bottles in black cases, arranged in a rectangle to approximate the size of a trailer used in human smuggling. At one end, Skabelund paired an archival photograph of an Apache mother and child with a 1935 account of settler violence in Tucson.
Across the gallery, six spike-laden tree trunks set in logging boots (Walking Beings, 2022) protrude from a wall, creating some shadows that nod to the artist’s compositional instincts and others that allude to barbed wire. Elsewhere, viewers see a cottonwood leaf suspended over a semicircle of dried, cracked earth; sections of found concrete pipe serving as vessels for small remnants of charred trees; and tree fragments that call to mind sculptural human torsos. Fragrance from the forest fills the space.
Text panels provide historical, philosophical, and autobiographical context for various installations, leaving viewers to ponder the conceptual connections between each piece.
While elevating physical and metaphysical aspects of the natural world, Skabelund issues a powerful call to memory, emotion, and action.