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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Whale Watching at JMKAC's 'Mocha Dick'

Art Review

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The John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC) continues to draw viewers to its series of exhibitions titled "Animal Magnetism." As a whole, the series explores humanity's relationship to other animals, often through monumental proportions.

A gallery near the museum's café houses "Tristin Lowe: Mocha Dick," a 52-foot-long replica of an albino sperm whale thought to battle whaling vessels in the Pacific Ocean in the 1800s (specifically, near Mocha Island off the Chilean coast).

Lowe uses white industrial wool felt to capture the look of the whale, while hiding the technology that inflates the massive sculpture and causes it to look almost like it's breathing. Zippers and hand stitching cover the whale's wool skin, mimicking the scratches and marks the whale would have received from harpoons and everyday life in the sea. Viewers will appreciate these techniques as they scrutinize the 250-plus barnacles spread over Mocha Dick's body, every stitch thread perfect.

Circling the inflatable mammal makes one feel insignificant—very small and of minute consequence in comparison to the vast size of whales and the world they inhabit. It's a world that humans have tried to conquer, perhaps ignoring another being's right to its existence. Lowe's impressive work may also represent an enormous blind spot in the human experience, as we envision a superior position in the universe instead of acting as caretakers to our surrounding environments—even in environments where other creatures might be threatening. ("Tristin Lowe: Mocha Dick" continues through May 8.)

Cross the JMKAC's lobby to view another exhibit, an imaginative paper installation dominated by burned black and charred gray coloration. "Andrew Scott Ross: Century Zoo" features more than 500 drawings on paper—some are of monumental size and placed on the wall, while others are miniature images pasted to wooden pedestals. The drawings include animal images from across time and cultures. Some wall portraits appear as darkened shadows or apparitions, as the artist includes symbolic and mythological images in addition to animals from his own imagination. ("Andrew Scott Ross: Century Zoo" continues through May 1.)
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