Iridescent plexiglass panels catch the afternoon light, distorting the views of the park beyond. Brightly painted wooden armatures support each window. Three are adjoined, like a folding screen divider, and a fourth panel is placed behind. This incomplete circle sits on a mound of shells and ceramic shards, resulting in cacophonous crunches as people walk across its expanse. For “Haven No. 3”(2021), artist Anina Major took inspiration from the bulletproof pulpit used at one of Angela Davis’s speaking engagements in New York City in the 1970s. Major’s structure, in the spirit of this historical citation, speaks to themes of protection for Black women, as the title — haven — signals a place of safety or refuge.
In the context of this year’s Socrates Annual exhibition, organized around the idea of sanctuary, Major’s work points more broadly to sanctuary as a practice, a state of being, a physical site, or a combination of these. Situated in a public park, the works in the group exhibition also play with ideas of nature as a sanctuary away from urban and contemporary life. Collectively, the artworks circumscribe sanctuary as a transitory, idiosyncratic state that provides emotional or physical respite.
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Moko Fukuyama, Gi (Ginny) Huo, and Levani (aka Levan Mindiashvili) explore sanctuary as a spatial environment in the form of shrines, archways, gates, and portals. These are interstitial sites between one space and another, one world and another. For example, Huo’s “an act or an offering, what if?”(2021) creates a propositional architecture: an archway plastered with collaged imagery of landscapes and clouds alongside bright neon colors.
The archway transforms the landscape of the park, altering sightlines and proposing new pathways and boundaries. Archways, shrines, and gates imply the need for human activation; they are sites at which to make offerings or to physically pass through, in turn suggesting the structures of desire, hope, and reverence invested in their architecture. As the text on Huo’s arch reads, “all I wanted was to get into heaven.”
Many of the artists also use sound as part of their environments. Andrea Ray’s “Rest Cure” (2021) consists of cement-encased lounge furniture anchored to the ground alongside speakers that project a woman’s voice as she reads healing texts that reference ideas like “islands of radical care” and “geometries of connection.”
Monsieur Zohore takes a less didactic approach in “MZ.19 (Patronus: For Mothers Who’ve Lost Their Sons & Sons That Lost Their Mothers)” (2021). Two 3-D printed monuments, one of the Virgin Mary and the other of the Disney character Bambi, are tucked away toward the back of the park, illuminated by sunlight that scatters through the surrounding trees. As one beholds the sculptures, static and honorific in the manner of funerary monuments, composer Joshua Coyne’s melodic score drifts through the space. In conjunction with the statues, the soundscape seems to manifest invisible or emotional forms of sanctuary, like the patronuses — symbols of protection — after which the sculptures are named.
In a nearby grove of trees, Monica Torres’s “Cueva | Cenote”(2021) creates the illusion of a natural sinkhole (a cenote) through a raised structure that mimics the bedrock and a vivid turquoise center signifying the watery depths.
Torres notes that the materials for the sculpture include “alma y presión” (soul and pressure), suggesting the emotional labor of creating sanctuary or the reciprocal relationships involved when we care for others. When I spent time at the exhibition, a visitor lay asleep in the curves of Torres’s sculpture, having found a safe harbor within its walls.
The 2021 Socrates Annual: Sanctuary continues at Socrates Sculpture Park (32-01 Vernon Blvd., Queens, New York) through March 6, 2022.