Cedra Wood’s exhibition at the Nevada Museum of Art is called “A Residency on Earth,” the name couldn’t be more apt for this entirely connected yet eclectic series of work.
This is a solo show, representing the results of several years’ work and travel. Cedra Wood moves from country to country as a visiting artist or an Artist in Residence. This has led her to many extremes of the globe, from the Arctic Circle to the outback of Australia, in order to research, work with locals and create her own personal works. Cedra has been an Art + Environment Research Fellow with the Nevada Museum of Art, 2012-2014. The Museum has commissioned artists around the world to be a part of their program investigating how humans interact with their environment.
Each country has its own defined space in the exhibition, at the top of each wall is a title, the country of the origin of the works. Each wall is painted a color representative of that country, Australia has red earth hue, the Arctic Circle is polar blue and the opposing wall is painted a dark forest green.
On the left side of the gallery, a glass case displays some of the journals Cedra kept during each trip, along with a collection of tiny antique bottles containing rolled up vellum letters, which she sent to William Fox and the museum curators at the Nevada Museum of Art. At first glance it seems an odd assemblage, a collector’s studio space, there are sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs, tiny bottles, letters, handmade books, botanical sketches and strange representations of faceless or masked humans with impossible heads.
The gallery space is full of several series of works using many diverse materials and mediums, from paintings to drawings to written letters, to bound books, to sculpted clothing. Cedra Wood works with local materials found on site such as the fibers and flaxes, with which she hand makes textiles and creates clothes from. I believe these particular garments were used for a performance art piece during her residency in Australia. All of the works in “A Residency on Earth” are exquisitely crafted in a variety of mediums.
Although the works are in diverse mediums, the hand is consistent. Cedra’s approach to every different environment has a narrative, story-telling element that drew me in instantly. I am interested in the fact that while looking at the “other” (extreme, unknown, isolated, environments and their people) Cedra integrates herself within the geographic locale, its culture and materials, looking from her own perspective, but working her way out to understand and present this information to her own culture. Wood has a clearly “composite identity” (Malouf) explored through the many unusual situations she deliberately inserts herself into. Her works show we are all “composite identities” (Malouf) as there are elements in her work that all viewers will recognize and find their own memories, heritage and connections being stirred. Her work is not voyeuristic but intensely experienced, she is no spectator in the field. A prime example of this is the graphite drawing of her-self caught up in the ships ropes in the Arctic, “Part of the ship, 2014,” where her braided hair is growing into, through and up the knotted ropes. This is a study for a painting (the original was stolen and she is painting another to replace it). The study alone caught my attention and imagination. All of Cedra Wood’s works have an aesthetic that I really appreciate. There is something of childhood and innocence, mixed with poignant contemporary details of her travels and emotional responses to the utterly different lands and people. I enjoy her many different approaches to telling a tale, from exquisite miniature paintings reminiscent of early explorers’ photographs to incredibly detailed graphite studies of Arctic ice floe faces, to 3 adults squatting around a natural rock pool in the Australian Outback, floating paper boats and looking at a large disconnected piece of braided octopus-like hair. Cedra places representations of herself in each work, the braided octopus hair is hers, the faceless human hanging in ship’s ropes is her, the girl standing on a stump with a head made up of green grapes is her, “they are compelling because she never reveals their meaning. Rather, she offers viewers glimpses of a world where one’s imagination is free to discover meaning based on personal experience and free association” (NMA).
I took away a greater understanding of how journals and sketchbooks inform final works, prompting and reminding, reinforcing the grounding premise of all of Wood’s work and collaborations, “a mutual deep and abiding respect for landscape and place-based work informs their independent examinations of the relationship between humans and nature” (WVU). The studies become important pieces in their own right, carrying raw, natural, minutely observed information and energy created through producing works on location. Working from the inside perspective out is another practical element I re-learned from Cedra’s work. As a photographer I am so often working from the opposite direction, the observer rather than the participant, however as a story-teller the works resonate with me, a sense of recognition, catching and drawing my attention to the folkloric and impossible situations I have always put my characters in, in my own work.
Exhibition review by Frances Melhop
Cedra Wood website
Work Cited and reference material
Maalouf, Amin. In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. New York: Arcade, 2001. Print.
Nevada Museum of Art website
Nevada Museum of Art exhibition description
West Virginia University website