Storm-tossed art sounds a warning

Visitors who experienced Hurricane Sandy last November called the exhibit evocative, and said it recalled the storm.

Artist Linda Cunningham and a portion of her work, "Precarious Processes”
Artist Linda Cunningham and a portion of her work, “Precarious Processes”

Mott Haven exhibit previewed work inspired by Hurricane Sandy

After Hurricane Sandy blew itself out, Linda Cunningham collected remnants of 300-year-old trees from Woodlawn Cemetery. As the anniversary of the storm approached, visitors to the Bronx Arts Center could see parts of those shattered trees at the BronxArtSpace, the gallery Cunningham founded on East 140 Street in Mott Haven.

Three tall canvases hung on each side of massive carvings that employed the storm-tossed wood.

On a table near the entrance was a pile of books, with titles like “World On The Edge” and the Rachel Carson classics “The Sea Around Us” and “Silent Spring.” Part of a sneak peak at Cunningham’s work-in-progress called “Precarious Processes” that ran for three days in September, the books emphasized the exhibit’s environmental theme.

Carson’s books, which helped launch the environmental movement, were among her inspirations, said Cunningham. A descriptive label on the wall bore a quotation from “The Sea Around Us.”

Hurricane Sandy’s devastation brought into sharper focus issues that have been on her mind for three decades, Cunningham said.

By using photo transfers, calligraphy and the remnants of the fallen trees in her work, Cunningham said, she expressed her concern about environmental change so vast that it could lead to the extinction of civilization.

On an 8-foot-high torn canvas, moonlight illuminated huge waves looming over two-story houses. Layers of line, shadow and color created images of clouds, weeds and rivulets on a beach.

Large tree trunks accompanied by images of ancient temples were depicted on three other canvases.

Cunningham said these images were based on her trip to Thailand and Cambodia in 2008, where she visited the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and Ayutthaya.

“It was a very special experience,” she said. So when she heard about the devastating floods that damaged those temples in 2011, she began to worry more about the health of the planet.

“Civilization has not thought carefully about controlling water,” Cunningham said. “When we cut down too many trees, cleared jungles and made dams, we created problems.”

Hurricane Sandy, she said, was a symptom of a larger problem, raising the same concerns as the flooded temples.

 “I walked up the street, and the wind was blowing so hard,” she recalled. “I was afraid of walking under any trees because the branches might fall down.”

Visitors who experienced the hurricane last November called the exhibit evocative, and said it recalled the storm.

“Her ocean piece is a wonderful reminder of the fragility and raw beauty of the dunes and sea,” said Amy Sultan, a filmmaker who lives in East Quogue, New York. “The huge gray wave feels just like it does for me as I have stood under a curling, crashing wave.”

As he looked at the drawings and sculptures, Jeffrey Guard, 38, said he could see a connection between the tall canvas and the woodcarvings.

“It’s just presented to me with these massive woodcarvings that give a life to the trees on the canvas,” said Guard, who volunteers at BronxArtSpace and who created a website called Bronx Art Exchange to provide information about art in the borough.

“Precarious Processes” offered a preview of larger project about environmental change. After the three-day exhibition, Cunningham said she would return the works to her studio.

“It’s a beginning of a bigger installation that I’m developing,” she said.

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