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“Riddle of the Burial Grounds”

39 East Essex Street, Temple Bar
June 11–October 10

View of “Riddle of the Burial Grounds,” 2015. From left: Stéphane Béna Hanly, Length of a Legacy (Robert Oppenheimer), 2015; Lara Almarcegui, Buried House, Dallas, 2013.

Measured against geological time, humans haven’t been around for all that long. Judging from the works in this exhibition, the natural world may have met its match in humanity. Throughout the show, sixteen artists comment on the depredations of time, revealing in the process the moments of willful ignorance, brilliance, and extraordinary beauty that characterize our existence on this planet.

Pieces from Stéphane Béna Hanly’s 2015 series “Length of a Legacy” are featured in each of the center’s spaces. Three illuminated vitrines contain these meticulously sculpted busts, made in unfired clay, slowly dissolving in water. The Ozymandias-like busts are actually likenesses of Thomas Midgley Jr., Robert Oppenheimer, and Alexander Parkes, the respective pioneers of CFCs, atomic weaponry, and plastics. In the first space, Midgley’s erosion is juxtaposed with Matthew Buckingham’s The Six Grandfathers, Paha Sapa, in the Year 502,002 C.E., 2002, which imagines through text and image Mount Rushmore half a million years from now, the rock-carved faces obliterated by time.

The theater spaces have fittingly been curated to be more dramatic, with seats removed to make way for a series of sequentially played and illuminated video and installation works. Dorothy Cross’s gorgeous video Stalactite, 2010, features a young boy—his soprano voice on the cusp of breaking—singing beneath one of the world’s largest stalactites, itself precariously attached and yet a strangely glowing, glistening, living thing that has evolved over 500,000 years. Opposite, Nicholas Mangan’s video A World Undone, 2012, shows the slow-motion destruction of a piece of zircon. At 4.4 billion years, it is one of the oldest minerals on the planet. Haunting.

Gemma Tipton