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Nari WardSub Mirage Lignum

  • Exhibition

  • April 3, 2011 - March 4, 2012
  • Galleries

Nari Ward’s dramatic sculptural installations are composed of material systematically collected from the neighborhoods where he lives and works or is personally connected to. By revealing the complex emotional registers inherent within everyday found objects, Ward’s work examines issues of race, poverty, and consumer culture and the inherent meaning and gravity we place upon objects from the discarded to the treasured.

At MASS MoCA, Ward created a new installation encompassing the entire second floor of Building 4, which visitors could experience as both a large-scale environment and as a series of smaller yet connected spaces. The title, Sub Mirage Lignum, represents the three main themes of the exhibition: sub, in the dual sense of “underneath” and “substitute for another (space)”; mirage, a false image produced by the refraction of light, subject to human interpretation; and lignum, derived from Lignum Vitae (“wood of life”), a tree whose bloom is the national flower of Jamaica.

Ward’s installation functioned as a hybrid zone where the real and the imaginary are intermingled—a place where one could not quite disentangle the mirage from reality. The centerpiece was a monumental work entitled Nu Colossus. Ward spent his childhood in Jamaica but has lived in the United States since he was a teenager; therefore Jamaica, as a place, exists for him as a blend between reality and an imagined zone. Ward became particularly interested in Jamaican fishing villages as temporary spaces suggestive of both community and sustenance. Like in Ward’s work, these villages are made up of what the fishermen can find—old oil barrels dotting the shore and brightly painted, recycled plywood shacks. For Ward, these villages go beyond the boundaries of the “Jamaican experience” and connect to the creative act itself, in both the utilization of reuse and in the wide net cast by both fishermen and artists, even though the outcome is unsure.

The form of Nu Colossus came from a small conical basket-woven fish trap. Fish are lured into these traps only to get ensnared. This duality of seduction and entrapment is key to Ward’s idea of mirage, which as an image both distorts reality and points to a sense of need. Ward’s 60-foot long sculpture was encased in wooden strips, covered with circular elements salvaged from MASS MoCA’s factory past. Suspended inside the cone, broken bits of weathered furniture appeared to be both stuck in the trap while also intrinsically a part of its structure. Nearby, a 30-foot long wooden boat held up by large sheets of glass referenced glass-bottomed tourist boats, but also created a mirage of the boat floating in the middle of the space. This liminal zone in the gallery was neither of the water nor the shore.

Adjacent galleries held connected works like Stall, a sound and sculptural piece. Though a poor country, Jamaica is home to a booming tourist trade, which drives a robust market for souvenirs that are linked to national cultural traditions. Ward recorded sellers in a Jamaican marketplace calling to him to buy their wares; this soundtrack was combined with elements collected from the Sprague factory. This beckoning is key, for just as the sellers of tourist goods call to people to see their craft, Ward did the very same thing in calling visitors to the museum.

Mango Tourists took the form of 10-foot tall snowman shapes encrusted and embedded with found objects and mango seeds. This work united the two sites of inspiration for Sub Mirage Lignum: the former Sprague factory—now MASS MoCA—and Jamaica. The sculptures were covered in foam—the perfect blank canvas, a material that is malleable to whatever form is given to it—then embellished with capacitors found at MASS MoCA from the former Sprague plant and several thousand dried mango seeds harkening to the tropics. The capacitors and seeds encased the sculptures like intricate beading—another mirage shifting the humble materials to the jewel-like. Additionally, both the capacitors and the seeds contained potential, one for power and the other for reproduction.

The exhibition contained two video works: Sweater, a macro-view close-up of pores on Ward’s skin and the sweat beading and pouring off its surface, linking the artist to the fluidity of the ocean but also the toil of labor. Jaunt, a video merging two mirages—one in Jamaica and one in North Adams—further connected these two disparate places. In Jaunt the central image came from footage of the water horizon line in Jamaica, which was then framed by an image of the car wash bays on River Street in North Adams, around the corner from MASS MoCA. This effectively placed the mirage of “paradise” smack dab in the middle of the reality of daily life, yet in the distance we could see the clock tower at MASS MoCA, another reminder of the transformation of factory to museum.

Nari Ward was born in St. Andrews, Jamaica, and he lives and works in New York. He received a BA from Hunter College, where he currently teaches, and an MFA from Brooklyn College. Ward’s work was included in the 2008 Prospect 1: New Orleans Biennial, the 2006 Whitney Biennial, New York, and Documenta XI in Kassel (2003). His work has also been exhibited at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit. Recent solo exhibitions include Episodes at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston; The Refinery, X: A small twist of fate at the Palazzo delle Papesse Centro Arte Contemporanea in Siena, Italy; Rites of Way at the Walker Art Center; and Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum at the Guggenheim Museum, New York. Ward has received commissions from the United Nations and the World Health Organization, and awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation.

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Download the gallery guide

Nari Ward, Mango Tourist, 2011
Foam, battery canisters, Sprague Electric Company resistors and capacitors, mango seeds

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