Review: "Ditch Witch"
By Wesley Pulkka
The Albuquerque Journal
Sunday, 07 June 2009
Walking the dog can be an adventure. Erika Wanenmacher's "Ditch Witch" exhibition at Linda Durham Contemporary Art chronicles her discoveries, observations and insights into the workings of the natural world while walking her dog Kevin for the first five months of this year.
While exploring the drainage ditch that serves as her walking path Wanenmacher assembled a magical blend of art, science, spirituality, a written narrative and her prodigious artistic skills to create sculpture, paintings, assemblages, amulets, talismans and spells. Her written narrative includes encounters with neighbors, animals, insects and a plethora of natural and manmade found objects. Wanenmacher is open and sensitive to her surroundings and accepts her discoveries as gifts from a generous universe.
"Kevin" is a sculptural portrait of Wanenmacher's dog made from a black furry sweater, wood and glass. The anatomically correct dog is leaping while on a retractable leash held by "Snow Erika" a self portrait made from a white angora sweater with embroidered beads. Though the sculptures are considered separate entities the leash symbolizes the real bond between dog and dog walker. Self-referential art can be self indulgent but Wanenmacher uses her personal narrative as a way of literally taking in her surroundings. Her painting "Ravens and Hawk" includes small glass eyes that look back at the viewer as the viewer follows the sky bound conflict between avian predators.
Wanenmacher plays the role of Daphne in "Tree Erika," a large mixed-media sculpture of a tree suspended from a pentagram. The tree trunk sports Wanenmacher's likeness as a nod to Daphne a Greek goddess who transformed herself into a tree to avoid the advances of the god Apollo.
In "Ant Hill Erika" the artist portrays herself in sand. The sand-covered wood carving stands above an ant hill festooned with an infinity symbol. The piece relates to the Navajo myth about the origins of the ant people. It also connects with Anasazi and Pueblo stories about the origins of humankind. As in the other self portraits Wanenmacher is absorbing the spirit of the ants and their domain by making a part of herself metaphorically be there as a witness and participant in their lives. These self portraits allow Wanenmacher to become the mythical skin traveler who becomes a deer in order to run fast or becomes a wolf in order to hunt well. In her last show at the gallery Wanenmacher was learning stealth by becoming a coyote.
There are pentagrams throughout the installation including a wall of spells. The spells are assembled from found objects that Wanenmacher picked up on her walks with Kevin. Pieces range from small bottles and bits of stone and glass that animals and insects ejected from their burrows to large objects that the artist sometimes altered and reconfigured. In her narrative Wanenmacher explains that the often misunderstood pentagram is a positive symbol of the four elements earth, air, fire and water connected through spirit.
The whole spells presentation is an intelligent blend of magic and marketing. The spells are meant to be taken home by viewers to use as needed. Their low prices and portability already have made this single wall of objects a big hit with visitors. As pieces are removed Wanenmacher replaces them with new assemblages.
This is a beautifully executed and thought-provoking show by one of New Mexico's most important and talented artists.