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Lori Kella’s mystical landscapes in her recent show, Looking West at the William Busta Gallery in Cleveland, Ohio, offer a glimpse at unobtainable worlds. In giclee prints of intricately created dioramas, piles of crumpled paper become the highest peaks of mountains or the deep strata of the earth’s crust. It seems as though the act of looking at these worlds will also cause them to go away.
At first glance the images appear to depict quaint American landscapes. Most of the prints have small objects and seem cute and entertaining. A solitary farmhouse appears calming, a lone bicycle in the plains suggests a grand adventure, birds swoop past the changing leaves of autumn, and bison graze across the fields. Digging into the images one finds a vulture examining a pink fleshy substance on a remote gravel road. Although majestic and peaceful while in silent flight in the American west, the vulture here exists on the ground in its most vulnerable and awkward state. Strange dark clouds give a clue of something amiss.
The clouds permeate most of the images, transforming what first seemed like prosaic landscapes into scenes of anticipation and terror. Are the bison peacefully grazing or huddling together to plan an escape from impending doom? As the opaque clouds envelop the mountain range in the distance of the unseen adventurous cyclist, in A Long Way to Go, we worry for their safe return. Suddenly brown plants seem less like a fall harvest and more a product of a scorched and abused landscape. A ray of hope shines from the left of the lone farmstead, framing a newly installed wind turbine. The red glow, possibly coming from the fire producing the clouds, could also signal that the turbine serves as a mere stopgap for the hemorrhaging of the mythical small farmer. Now less romantic the fight for survival comes to the forefront. Even the title, Farm at Twilight, signals a passing or impending change.
Again the title, Autumn Harbinger, suggests that the once peaceful birds flying over autumn trees now frantically try to escape the ever approaching dark clouds from the left. We begin to feel urgency and hope for their getaway. Infrastructure and vehicles imply the presence of humans, but we never see them. As the unseen pilots of a firefighting helicopter dump a miniscule amount of relief onto a forest ablaze in, Majestic Efforts, we do not hold out much majestic hope. Further nails in the coffin come from the lighting felled tree in, Lightning Break. The landscape falls apart.
Other images reveal the hidden landscape and underground effects of human activity. In Public Land the dark clouds consume the top of an oil rig that extends deep down into the earth in search of treasure. Beautiful colored paper represents the strata and a green pipe continues the quest horizontally. In All is Quiet, a system of blue pipes twists and extends underground. Who maintains this equipment? Two deer stand above listening to the quiet, completely unaware of the tremendous power below. The dark clouds swoop from behind. Humanity’s most heroic efforts seem no more monumental than a child’s ant farm. We live within the thin lacquer on the globe unaware of context in our daily lives.
One image, Arent Road, does not have foreboding clouds, but the anticipation felt for a bunny attempting to cross a road stands in. The viewer sees the furry creature lit by headlights from a car they might occupy, unable to know or change the outcome. Perhaps this depiction of a human in the driver’s seat traveling along the great American road toward the clear night sky represents us the viewer. Are the foreboding clouds behind us? Can we escape and choose our destiny? The rabbit waits. Kella seems to offer a choice. Either act as agents of change or remain caught helpless staring at the onslaught of a brightly lit steel beast.
Looking West ran from February 15 to March 16, 2013 but for now much of the work remains up in a different section of the gallery. Often William Busta subtly moves around work to other display points in the gallery while new shows open. This offers a hybrid experience between an ever changing commercial gallery and the repeatable enjoyment of a museum collection. A new show, A Vanishing Wilderness: Works from the 2012 Wyoming Artists Expedition, on display from March 16 to April 20 also includes two of Kella’s works.
William Busta Gallery
2731 Prospect Avenue
Cleveland OH 44115