Exhibition Informational Panels

Biological Regionalism: Monroe, Louisiana, USA

 

Alberto Rey was an Artist-In-Residence at the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe, Louisiana, in 2012.  While in Monroe, he studied the flora and fauna of the region, worked with several local institutions, and collected samples. He then created the work you see in these galleries, focusing on the region of Northeast Louisiana and its waterways. Biological Regionalism contains four deeply interconnected conceptual layers or themes:  They are the idea of high and low art, regionalism as it relates to supposed “avant garde” culture in a globalized world; the specific history of Northeast Louisiana; and environmentalism.  These themes consistently overlap, like ripples on water colliding and melding as they flow into one another.

 

Alberto Rey’s series Biological Regionalism uses research conducted in aquatic ecosystems to recreate a localized narrative history.  His histories often speak to the interconnected nature of species by exploring the impact on our environment of factors such as pollution, overfishing, invasive species, human encroachment, and sometimes, recovery.  This series conveys a sense of urgency because it utilizes the formal components and systems of meaning from diverse art historical antecedents – not often associated with contemporary art – while still addressing today’s most pressing environmental issues. Additionally, Rey often juxtaposes the sense of scale in his work with seemingly mundane or anti-heroic imagery.  Specifically, he works in a monumental scale using ostensibly unfashionable “low art” imagery featuring fish to create fine art with a cerebral Pop sensibility.
 

 
Alberto Rey                                                                  American, Cuban born, b. 1960

 

Biological Regionalism: Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Boardwalk, Monroe, Louisiana, USA (Removed from artist’s journal), 2012

Ink on paper

 

Permanent Collection of Masur Museum of Art

 

While in Monroe, Rey visited Black Bayou Lake Wildlife Refuge several times and held a sketchbook workshop there as well.  He further injected himself into Northeast Louisiana’s environmental and artistic discourse by hosting a fly-tying workshop at the Masur and a joint lecture with Kelby Ouchley, former Manager at Black Bayou Lake.  This second event focused on the local ecosystem and Rey’s career as an artist.  Rey also partnered with local citizens and other institutions, drawing on many resources within the community to make his project at the Masur as rich as possible.  His fishing with friends of the Masur and breaking bread with Northeast Louisianans will hopefully expand the reach of Rey’s message by creating interest and strong bonds within the community.
 

 
Alberto Rey                                                                  American, Cuban born, b. 1960

 

Biological Regionalism: Largemouth Bass, Bayou Desiard, Monroe, Louisiana, USA, 2012

Oil on panel

 

Permanent Collection of Masur Museum of Art

 

Rey’s realistic depiction of fish and ecosystems gives visual form to his interests in conservation and in the restoration of our environment.  In addition, he juxtaposes and reinforces this concept with an anti-empirical visual device, wherein he encloses his subject matter with an irregular black halo, thereby forming a vignette or border.  It is a pictorial device that gives a viewer’s eye a place to rest and is endowed with other implications.  Like the halos found on Christian icons, Rey’s vignettes connect fish to the pictorial and iconographic history of otherwise invisible spirituality or religiosity.  Rey started using this compositional element in the early 1990s in his Madonnas of Western New York, Madonnas in Time, and in the Icons series.  Since then he has frequently used halos to indicate an unseen bond between an object or location and the idea of spirituality.  It is a multivalent symbol for the inexplicable urge for all life to persist, the idea of ecological interconnectedness, and the importance of human stewardship.  Rey’s images reaffirm the human idea of the sublime – the dual sense of exaltation and terror in the face of nature in its purest forms and the metaphysical connection we feel to our environment.  The subtle incorporation of halos into many of his compositions establish a sense of spirituality that enables Rey to connect his images to the spectator’s experience of nature and its inherent religious dimension.  While Rey does not overtly equate his vignettes or halos and fish to religiosity, he is not opposed to the idea that the spectator can make such connections.   These intimations of spirituality represent only one aspect of Rey’s engagement with the relationship between low and high art.
 

 
Alberto Rey                                                                  American, Cuban born, b. 1960

 

Biological Regionalism: Bayou Desiard, Monroe, Louisiana, USA, 2012

Oil on panel

 

Permanent Collection of Masur Museum of Art

 

Bayou Desiard is the lifeblood of Monroe, Louisiana and represents the identity of the people who live in this area.  One of the bayou’s many notable features is a pair of bald cypress trees, slowly growing into one another, that stand in the bayou like two great blue herons.  Around them, the only discernible evidence of man’s presence is the slowly spreading wake from a boat on the water.   Rey employs the low horizon line he observed while in the boat as a faithful recreation of his experience in the Bayou.  Rey’s rendition of the landscape is important because it is a straightforward assessment of its existing topography. His depiction of Bayou Desiard can be interpreted either as a static, mythical land impervious to mankind’s encroachment, or as a resource destined to be dominated and used without regard for the consequences.  The low horizon provides an entry into Rey’s landscapes from which his work can be interpreted as it is experienced, openly.

 

Bayou Desiard is bathed in a warm luminosity and easily conveys a sense of movement as light refracts off the Bayou’s gently moving water.  Rey’s gestural treatment of tree limbs and foliage also implies movement in the form of a humid, sun soaked breeze, which illustrates the actual moving parts in the real world observed in Bayou Desiard’s vegetation.  The use of this motif additionally emphasizes the sense of flux and uncertainty about the Bayou’s future that is part of its present.
 

 
Biological Regionalism: Monroe, Louisiana, USA

 

While acknowledging his limitations as an outsider to many of the regions he represents as well as his responsibility to research his topics thoroughly, Rey is nevertheless skeptical of the notion of an “authentic” regional perspective: “There is no perfect vantage point from which to reflect on a region. Even residents have limited perspectives created by past experiences, by the repetitive nature of their everyday lives, and by the group of the folks they regularly correspond with. I do the best I can to bring my skills and past experiences into each unique situation.” Rey is invested in documenting a variety of ecosystems or geographical locales because he is concerned with environmentalism and with the practice of fishing and with merging his personal activity with much larger traditions.  Thus, he engages in site-specific dialogues that bring the local, the regional, the national and the global in touch with one another. Biological Regionalism fills a need to document the resources we possess while also leveling and questioning the aesthetic playing field with unique combinations of painting, video, drawing, and collected specimens.                                                       
 

 
Alberto Rey                                                                  American, Cuban born, b. 1960

 

Biological Regionalism: Fish Shadows, Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Monroe, Louisiana, USA, 2012

Video, 4’19”

 

Permanent Collection of Masur Museum of Art

 

Biological Regionalism: Monroe, Louisiana, USA

 

This video shows the forest floor while Black Bayou Lake is at flood stage in the spring. Perceptive observers who slow their viewing process to match the pace of Rey’s videos literally see the moving microcosm of life he that is implicit in his paintings.  Fish Shadows, for example, features lazy air bubbles drifting to the surface, implying oxygen, gases, rot, and nature’s ability to create life from death.  The air bubbles slowly draw viewers into this small section of flooded forest floor until they are capable of seeing thousands of tiny creatures swimming in all directions.  These creatures’ identities remain anonymous, but they illustrate the sheer wealth and complexity of life even in such a tiny part of a larger ecosystem.  In this case, moreover, the underwater camera captures the very life forms that normally emerge only when humans leave, thereby reflecting, according to Rey, “the unseen environment of the Bayou.”   Unlike the subjects of most of Rey’s works, the namesakes of Fish Shadows are more implicit than explicit.  The last part of this work most people are likely to see are the shadows of several small fish feeding at the surface of the water.  The ability of Fish Shadows to slow down the viewing process illustrates the contemplative nature of Rey’s work.
 

 
Alberto Rey                                                                  American, Cuban born, b. 1960

 

Biological Regionalism: Horseshoe Lake, Monroe, Louisiana, USA, 2012

Watercolor on paper

 

Permanent Collection of Masur Museum of Art

 

In advance of Rey’s arrival in Monroe, he asked Masur staff to find several types of research materials for him.  He was most interested in seeing historical examples of landscape paintings and other examples of fine art from Monroe’s more distant past.  Such artifacts do not appear to exist within Monroe’s cultural milieu.  There are many historical examples of art documenting the landscape and culture of Southern Louisiana, but similar equivalents do not exist in Monroe.  The lack of historical fine art documentation of Monroe’s environment means that Rey’s project and accompanying scholarship is powerful because it contextualizes Northeast Louisiana in a way other artists have done in the United States throughout its history.  His project will also call attention to Monroe artists working in the same vein, hopefully prompting more in depth documentation of their work.  As an artist in residence at the Masur, Rey created “regional art” with documentary photographs, lithographs, and etchings culled from newspaper archives as primary sources for his research.  Rey’s investigation of these resources brings attention to the importance of his project for the cultural life of Monroe and it has the potential for creating long-term and lasting changes at the Masur Museum of Art byway of reinforcing the importance of regional art.
 

 
Alberto Rey                                                                  American, Cuban born, b. 1960

 

Biological Regionalism: Swaying Cypress, Horseshoe Lake, Monroe, Louisiana, USA, 2012

Video, 1’06”

 

Permanent Collection of Masur Museum of Art

 

Biological Regionalism: Monroe, Louisiana, USA

 

While he does not directly advocate a specific spiritual or religious viewpoint within his current artistic practice, Rey acknowledges this element within his work. This is supported by his use of light, halos, and the contemplative pace of his videos.  Rey’s engagement with a locale presents it simultaneously and paradoxically as exotic and authentic, fragile and durable, romantic and empirical.  His self-conscious creation of this complex system of meaning that accepts diverse interpretive possibilities is meant to create dialogue between contrasting positions and perspectives. Rey does not dogmatically dictate a specific perspective for his work or its content.  He feels that enriching environmental debates and making them complex is the only way to ensure progress and prevent one-sided, adversarial dialogue.
 

 
Biological Regionalism: Monroe, Louisiana, USA

 

Gathering flora and fauna, then preserving them in the manner of scientific specimens, is something new to Rey’s practice, but would seem to be a natural progression for his investigations and research.  This new practice was assisted by the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Museum of Natural History, which boasts the third largest university collection of fish specimens in the world.  Their staff members’ willingness to assist Rey with the task and the art of preserving and documenting specimens in an appropriately scientific manner made this addition to his practice seamless.

 

These works are examples of Rey’s incorporation of biological specimens into his installations and artistic projects. They represent Rey’s dedication to an interdisciplinary approach and his desire to strike a balance between the empiricism of science and the aesthetics of fine art. Vetch uses a dried member of the bean family to communicate this thematic interplay while maintaining a sense of refined simplicity.  The work presents Black Bayou Lake in the style of frontier or expeditionary cartography, with a bird’s eye viewpoint often associated with omnipotence or omniscience.  The balance between these two elements of Vetch is driven home by the very fragility of the specimen itself and the play of line within the composition in that the specimen mirrors the contour of the east side of Black Bayou Lake as well as the course of Bayou Desiard off to the west.  This layering of meaning is brought to life by the looping lines in Vetch, underscored by the contouring of the text of its scientific plate and label information to fit the landscape.
 

 
Biological Regionalism: Monroe, Louisiana, USA

 

Largemouth Bass and Sunfish is in keeping with Rey’s large-scale fish imagery from Biological Regionalism.  The two fish are preserved in formalin and sealed inside their jar with paraffin wax.  The impasto application of paraffin is imperfect and painterly, drawing attention to the implied ruthlessness of sacrificing fish in the name of science and stewardship of the species.  The wax also gives Largemouth Bass and Sunfish a sense of importance by emphasizing that through art, the fish is fulfilling a higher cultural purpose by becoming a type of reliquary.  It is important to recognize Rey’s continued use of scale to convey his message.  The bass is so large it blocks the sunfish from view and completely fills its container.  It appears uncomfortable, and its tail was indeed doubled back on itself before Rey placed the dead fish in the jar.  Replete with Spanish moss and sawgrass, two plants pulled directly from the fish’s former home, Largemouth Bass and Sunfish function as a reminder of its origins and indicates how, through human agency, the fish has been removed from its ecosystem.   This juxtaposition raises serious and potentially unsettling questions about the struggle for life within an ecosystem, and what Rey identifies as “the nostalgic quest for information through science,” ultimately inviting its viewers to reflect on their own quests for knowledge and their experiences.

 

 
Biological Regionalism: Monroe, Louisiana, USA

 

Angling has long been an important part of Rey’s life.  His engagement with it as a segment of his identity gives Biological Regionalism a sense of purposeful unity with his past series and his life long journey to reconcile his conception of self with his place in the world.  He uses his artistic practice as a means of making a direct impact on issues in which he believes strongly.  Rey helped found the S.A.R.E.P. Youth Fly Fishing Program with funding from the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency.  The program places equal emphases on inclusion, environmental consciousness, ethics, scientific training, and sportfishing.

 

In Monroe, Rey worked with staff members at the Louisiana State Department of Wildlife and Fisheries as well as University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Museum of Natural History.  The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries took Rey to Bayou Desiard to gather specimens of indigenous fish and plant species to serve as source material for his project.
 

 
Biological Regionalism: Monroe, Louisiana, USA

Northeast Louisiana History: Part 1 of 3

The following history of Northeast Louisiana is cursory for two reasons.  The first is the limitation of space within this exhibition.  Second is the need to only give Rey’s work an overall sense of historical gravitas for the sake of its implied meanings rather than rehashing an expansive history.

 

Northeast Louisiana is spotted with remains of huge earthen mounds.  The mounds and their builders reached their literal and figurative height in 1500 BCE in present day Poverty Point, Louisiana.  The site at Poverty Point is toted as the oldest and largest commercial center ever found in North America.  Mounds are sometimes difficult to recognize because they are over grown by trees or have been unwittingly reappropriated as modern building sites capable of providing protection from devastating floods.  The geological composition of the mounds is a hodgepodge of materials with origins throughout the United States.  This attests to the importance of Louisiana’s waterways as trade routes, but also the shear power of the mound’s pre-agricultural inhabitants; a society capable of amassing the time, knowhow, and materials to make mounds that were frequently several meters tall. These sites set the precedence for the importance of the land itself in Northeast Louisiana.

 

After 1492 ACE Louisiana came under the dominion of the Spanish and French several times, and then the United States of America in 1803 after the Louisiana Purchase.  In between this time it is believed that Hernando DeSoto traveled the length of the Ouachita River from Hot Springs, Arkansas to Jonesville, Louisiana in 1541. While DeSoto’s true path is hotly debated, it is accepted as fact in folk histories of the area.  After this supposed exploration by the Spanish, French trappers and subsistence farmers settled in Northeast Louisiana and most important cultural and political developments occurred in Southern Louisiana.  Some of the more important events include the birth of the Cajun and Creole cultures, Huey P. Long’s political hegemony, the Battle of New Orleans, and the manufacture of the Higgins Boat for D-Day landings in World War Two; a versatile design straight from the bayous of Louisiana credited with making the landings a success.  Other important events include the birth of jazz within African American culture as well as its later fusion with blues and other musical styles, the occupation of New Orleans during the Civil War, the creation of some of the best and most culturally diverse food in the United States, and the virtual eradication of Native American culture within Louisiana; for example many of the largest Native American mounds were flattened to make room for agriculture or used for construction materials through much of the twentieth century.
 

 
Biological Regionalism: Monroe, Louisiana, USA

Northeast Louisiana History: Part 2 of 3

 

In 1804 ACE Thomas Jefferson commissioned Dr. George Hunter and William Dunbar to explore and document the geography, flora, and fauna of the Red, Black, and Ouachita Rivers.  The expedition’s aims were identical to Lewis and Clark’s famous journey, but wound up producing few revelations. At the time of Hunter and Dunbar’s expedition, the Ouachita River flowed by Fort Miro.  Fort Miro was eventually renamed Monroe in honor of the steam paddler James Monroe.  The arrival of the steamer was momentous in the fact that it connected Monroe economically to the rest of Louisiana, but even after this point Monroe maintained the rough and ready character of a frontier outpost.  This legacy lives on in the region in the form of a love for hunting, fishing, and the outdoors.

 

From the mid nineteenth century on, most of the waterways in Louisiana were dredged, dammed, and equipped with locks.  This proved disastrous to many ecosystems, reducing the number of many native plant and animal species in Louisiana.  Railroads were also built throughout the state.  Agro products including timber and cotton fueled the local economy and were later joined by soybeans, sweet potatoes, corn, and rice.  The Civil War, while it righted the wrongs of slavery in an abstract sense, negatively impacted crop production and disrupted every aspect of Louisianan life in some way.  In the early twentieth century an abundance of natural gas was found in Northeast Louisiana and this contributed to a burgeoning chemical processing and refinement industry.  Later, in 1925 ACE Delta Airlines grew out of a crop dusting business based out of Monroe. In 1930 ACE, CenturyLink, currently the third largest telecommunications company in the United States, which is based in Monroe, grew out of William Clarke and Marie Williams’ parlor in Oak Ridge, Louisiana.
 

 
Biological Regionalism: Monroe, Louisiana, USA

Northeast Louisiana History: Part 3 of 3

 

The founding of Louisiana Tech University in 1894 ACE and University of Louisiana at Monroe in 1931 ACE provided Northeast Louisiana with an abundance of human infrastructure and an overall improvement in the quality of life. The repeal of Jim Crow laws and the continued acceptance of equality in general terms have continued to change the face of the South, but this phenomenon is hardly unique to Northeast Louisiana. Throughout the unfolding of these events Northeast Louisiana did not experience a marked growth in population.  Monroe’s current population is less than fifty thousand people and boasts a thirty four percent poverty rate. Both statistics are indicative of the region.  Even so, investment in infrastructure is impressive when these facts are taken into account, but it is not surprising a strong historical narrative of visual arts never took root.  Rey’s project will serve as the impetus for the creation, potential rediscovery, and close continued maintenance of a canon of Northeast Louisianan art history at the Masur.  These types of activities will serve to make all aspects of Northeast Louisianan culture more accessible and inter-relatable to any cultural context.  It will also improve the region’s ability to successfully capitalize on its frontier identity and the resources it has.  This aside, the most important cultural, economic, or political development specific to Northeast Louisiana after World War Two is arguably the founding of Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

 

Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge represents an interesting response to the history of the area.  Instead of viewing the environment solely as a means of recreation, subsistence, or in terms of a source of economic profitability, it has pushed an agenda of educational outreach and holistic thinking in regard to resources management.  Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1997 and boasts a highly involved community auxiliary group, Friends of Black Bayou. They have positioned the refuge at the forefront of the Environmental movement in the area.  The Friends have helped create extensive educational programs and facilities at Black Bayou Lake in a move to foster better management of natural resources in the long term.  They have also impacted many immediate changes.  Most notably they served as the initial dissenting voice that blocked plans for water pipelines that would have further polluted the Ouachita River. They also successfully worked with Refuge staff on a mercury abatement project related to the natural gas wells.  Friends of Black Bayou were also the figurehead and driving force behind the reversal of toxic hydrogen sulfide levels in several bayous. The high hydrogen sulfide levels were a result of bayous being rendered nearly sterile by locks and dams. Extensive hunting and fishing is encouraged at Black Bayou Lake and Friends of Black Bayou also boasts members with business and manufacturing credentials.  Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge represents an unexpected confluence of parties who understand their quality of life, regardless of their motivations, depends on the natural environment.  Simply, their agenda of inclusion mirrors Rey’s approach to his art and environmental advocacy.
 

Biological Regionalism: Monroe, Louisiana, USA

 

Alberto Rey was an Artist-In-Residence at the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe, Louisiana, in 2012.  While in Monroe, he studied the flora and fauna of the region, worked with several local institutions, and collected samples. He then created the work you see in these galleries, focusing on the region of Northeast Louisiana and its waterways. Biological Regionalism contains four deeply interconnected conceptual layers or themes:  They are the idea of high and low art, regionalism as it relates to supposed “avant garde” culture in a globalized world; the specific history of Northeast Louisiana; and environmentalism.  These themes consistently overlap, like ripples on water colliding and melding as they flow into one another.

 

Alberto Rey’s series Biological Regionalism uses research conducted in aquatic ecosystems to recreate a localized narrative history.  His histories often speak to the interconnected nature of species by exploring the impact on our environment of factors such as pollution, overfishing, invasive species, human encroachment, and sometimes, recovery.  This series conveys a sense of urgency because it utilizes the formal components and systems of meaning from diverse art historical antecedents – not often associated with contemporary art – while still addressing today’s most pressing environmental issues. Additionally, Rey often juxtaposes the sense of scale in his work with seemingly mundane or anti-heroic imagery.  Specifically, he works in a monumental scale using ostensibly unfashionable “low art” imagery featuring fish to create fine art with a cerebral Pop sensibility.
 

 
Alberto Rey                                                                  American, Cuban born, b. 1960

 

Biological Regionalism: Fish Shadows, Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Monroe, Louisiana, USA, 2012

Video, 4’19”

 

Permanent Collection of Masur Museum of Art

 

Biological Regionalism: Monroe, Louisiana, USA

 

This video shows the forest floor while Black Bayou Lake is at flood stage in the spring. Perceptive observers who slow their viewing process to match the pace of Rey’s videos literally see the moving microcosm of life he that is implicit in his paintings.  Fish Shadows, for example, features lazy air bubbles drifting to the surface, implying oxygen, gases, rot, and nature’s ability to create life from death.  The air bubbles slowly draw viewers into this small section of flooded forest floor until they are capable of seeing thousands of tiny creatures swimming in all directions.  These creatures’ identities remain anonymous, but they illustrate the sheer wealth and complexity of life even in such a tiny part of a larger ecosystem.  In this case, moreover, the underwater camera captures the very life forms that normally emerge only when humans leave, thereby reflecting, according to Rey, “the unseen environment of the Bayou.”   Unlike the subjects of most of Rey’s works, the namesakes of Fish Shadows are more implicit than explicit.  The last part of this work most people are likely to see are the shadows of several small fish feeding at the surface of the water.  The ability of Fish Shadows to slow down the viewing process illustrates the contemplative nature of Rey’s work.
 

 

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