Exploring the unseen

Work in Progress: Traverse

Current Work in Progress:  Traverse

Informed by her Sociology and Cultural Geography background, Katya Roberts’ current and previous work deals with:  commonalities within the human condition, systems of organization including communication and modes of knowing, human ingenuity, nature, the sense of awe, and the ways people and spaces influence each other. 

Beyond conceptual wanderlust, Traverse visually delves into nature’s grand gestures and the earth itself as an artist, carving its marks over the surface over billions of years.  This exhibition asks us to consider our relationship to the landscapes we traverse, both real and metaphorical, against the geological backdrop of the life of the earth spanning billions of years. 

With imagery inspired by Iceland’s geologically active landscapes, Katya Roberts employs processes that mimic shaping of the earth’s crust such as tearing, recombining, layering and reshaping the materials.  The observed movement is further aided by spills and shifted planes.  It points to the dynamism of the earth and the characterization of the earth as a live organism.  Both the process and outcome play with a balance of dualities such as pushing and pulling, contracting and releasing, liquids and solids, glossy and powdery, micro and macro. Are these materials and marks pouring out or structuring themselves?  Do they capture a chaotic beginning or are they evolving from a place of rest?  The clear and ethereal qualities of cellophane evoke a sense of impermanence. At the same time, the reflective properties of the material aim to confront the viewer with an awareness of the here and now.

Born out of the idea that “what something isn’t” can tell a great deal about “what it is,” Katya adopts negative space as a means of telling the story of what is not said.  The mountain inspired ridges and rock inspired formations are created by painting in against the tear of paper into the negative space.  She chooses to work with mold making plaster rather than casting plaster to bring the material that usually performs a supporting role into the role of the protagonist.  In the case of the plaster sculptures, Katya offers the would-be mold itself as the sculpture.  Some of these sculptural pieces capture empty space inside of containers of daily consumables purchased in big box stores.  They take on an alien or futuristic aesthetic, through which Katya offers a dichotomy of the familiar and alien.  While some of these objects adopt alien, futuristic aesthetic, other objects such as the tools used to create these sculptures point to our primitive roots.  This reach back and forward in time aims to bring the viewer once again into the here and now.

Conceptually, Iceland’s geologically young age offers an opportunity for time travel.  Just as time is a fixed construct that attempts to define a constantly changing process, so too are landscapes, both fixed and transient.  Over time, cataclysmic events find apparent rest while forming awe-inspiring beauty as mountains, waterfalls, and canyons.  Awe is one of the aspects of the human condition that we share in common.  The rocks that emerge as a result of the formations stand witness to the evolving landscapes before our time.  If the landscapes could speak, what would they say to us?  If they do speak, where can we hear them?  At present, as Icelanders mitigate their own lives amidst the raw and dynamic landscape, Iceland calls into immediate attention our relationship to the earth, both past and present. 

The invitation to “traverse” posed by the exhibition is a sort of quiet SOS from nature, calling us back to itself.  An argument can be made that as the pendulum swings, the more we occupy virtual rather than organic spaces; and the less we traverse natural environments, the louder the call to return to nature. In 1984, Edward O. Wilson described the concept of biophilia in his book titled Biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.”  The originator of the concept, Eric Fromm characterized it as "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life." Edward O. Wilson expounds on Eric Fromm’s work when he adds that we are in a reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationship with the natural world and that it is our natural love for life that helps sustain life.  He argues that our tendency to form connections with nature and other life forms is innate and interdependent, ensuring each other’s survival. 

In Traverse, Katya Roberts reminds us of the earth’s dynamic power and awe-inspiring life force through Icelandic landscapes.  Nevertheless what the exhibit offers are not real landscapes; more accurately they are metaphors for landscapes.  Katya Roberts hopes that a psychological space akin to a vacuum is created between the poetry of the landscapes she offers and the reality of confronting the self in the here and now, within the walls of a gallery.  Katya Roberts hopes this in-between space as well as the work she offers inspires a visceral nostalgia and longing for the real thing.