The spiritual in ‘Elemental Forces’

Suzy Poling’s multimedia exhibition hypnotizes in Oakland gallery

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Settle into the cushioned pews at Krowswork Gallery and Suzy Poling’s video, “Humans and Stones,” will hypnotize you — not in a trippy-stoner kind of way but toward a more subdued spirituality.

The screen seems to enlarge as you watch and begin to feel the surroundings fill with the vortex of sound and close-ups of black and white paint drops plopping and shrinking on the hands and face of the artist.
The drops are mirrored aurally under Poling’s music persona, Pod Blotz. This name refers to the surreal image of an ink drop falling onto a seed pod. The plunges of music haunt with influences from horror movies, choir echoes and repeating droplets.

Poling’s show, “Elemental Forces,” is technically a visual one, but she identifies sound as the most psychological medium. She doesn’t necessarily view sound and visual art as mutually exclusive media but asserts an interconnectedness. The video immerses the audience; the glacially-paced movement corresponding with the music results in an eerie and memorable experience, one difficult to thoroughly describe.

Interaction with the earth repeats throughout the show. Interaction, however, is perhaps not the best word to describe the experience that Poling evokes as she defamiliarizes and reconstructs earth marvels for gallery-goers. Poling describes her mixed media as a “blending with (nature), and being one with everything.” The uncanny sights of nature — reflected in her past works, such as her geyser photograph series in which agrestal phenomena seem like abstracted creations — is a common theme throughout her show. Her chemical painting collages at Krowswork manifest that fascination, and Poling even noted that some of her friends mistook them for photographs.

Nature and technology do not contradict but intertwine in her paintings, collages, video and interactive installation. Poling considers the hyperrealism of science fiction book covers from the 1970s as formative in her art, along with her early work in photography and incidental findings of abnormal decay and growths in abandoned hospitals and other buildings (which she also previously photographed).

High-contrast photos of black and white landscapes, distillations of this conglomerative influence of surrealism, film, science and natural wonders, are some of the most intriguing pieces of the show. They capture images of Sedona and Yellowstone but surprise with framing and textural variety. Poling was drawn to these places, especially Sedona, when learning about ley lines — the alleged alignment of natural and ancient monuments that create a certain spiritualism — and about the mysticism behind certain magnetic fields in the area that cause plants to grow in peculiar patterns.

Poling calls what anyone else might call mold, “abnormal growth.” She sees decay as an essential and fascinating process in regeneration. “I feel like all materials connect and that’s what my work is definitely about,” she said. “A lot of my work starts with something fallen apart or destroyed or chaos, and I go in there and create this order with my work.”

The order created in her endeavors doesn’t necessarily answer the questions of the universe’s phenomena but guides, directs and encourages us to keep wondering. The most interactive piece of the exhibit consists of rotating disks, which look like something out of Andy Warhol’s Factory, hanging from the ceiling. They are surrounded by black and white streaked masks and mirrors arranged on the ground. If you look around, the colorful video projection from behind bounces off the mobile disks and creates abstracted and constantly changing faint patterns on the disks. If you look down at the masks, you can see your reflection reminiscent of Poling’s face in “Seers Unseen” but with your own face in the mask.

What Poling describes as “psycho-geography,” or a remapping of an emotional relationship to one’s surroundings, resonates most in this room. No longer are you the observer of Poling’s efforts to reverberate her surroundings, but you too engage with your environment.

A.J. Kiyoizumi covers visual art. Contact her at [email protected].

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