ArtSEA: Historic Soul Pole Returns to Seattle’s Central District

At the Henry Art Gallery, standing in front of a 30-foot-wide painting depicting spring, I once again felt myself pondering this unpredictable and convulsive time of year. Brushstrokes of oil paint mixed with sand had left thick churns of ocean azure, sky blue, and jade interspersed with puffs of white paint and flashes of daffodil yellow. It was as if the sky and the grass had collided, swirling like in the eyes of someone lying drunk in the spring grass.

This sensory and bodily experience of the seasons is indeed the goal of MAGMA SLACK, a captivating new exhibition by the Bolivian-American artist Donna Huanca at the Henry (on view until February 5, 2023).

Four sets of combined paintings, each dedicated to a season, line the walls and will change position during the exhibition. Made from oil paint and sand layered over digital photo prints, these murals look monumental.

The aerial soundtrack is a sound collage made up of layers of Huanca sounds recorded around the world and collected from the internet. With birds chirping and sounds seeming to come from the depths of the earth like roaring magma, it enhances the installation’s sense of scale. The cycle of the seasons turns with or without us.

The exhibit’s eye-catching central sculpture is also monumental, a large bulbous stage-like base filled with white sand, lit by skylights from above. A mirrored screen cuts through the middle of the base, like a room divider or a metallic veil. The laser-cut slashes and openings in the screens apparently take the shape of countries on an invented world map, but are actually based on Huanca’s drawings of small groups of human figures and crowds. Now, in the absence of these people, spotting a few other masked visitors on the other side through the gaps, these gaps seem appropriate for this pandemic moment, where anything can happen after a major glitch: the gaps can widen, or we can close the distance.

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