Our rivers, ourselves: One artist’s very personal take on the impact of dams

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Carolina Caycedo’s exhibition at Commonwealth & Council continues her project “Be Dammed,” in which she investigates the socio-environmental impacts of dams, often in collaboration with local activists protesting their construction. The current iteration, “El Hambre Como Maestra/Hunger as Teacher,” was inspired by a quote from Brazilian activist Raimunda Silva: “Hunger taught me to fish.”

Most of the works employ fishing nets in hanging sculptures, creating elegiac volumes in the gallery. “Big Woman/Mujer grande” is the most literal of these, depicting a female figure draped in net. The sculpture is talismanic in tone but also a tribute to Latin American female activists celebrated in a nearby drawing, two of whom were killed for their activism in 2016.

Also hanging nearby is the drawing “Pisisbaiya,” an illustrated fable that Caycedo wrote in the voice of the river we know as the Colorado, charting its multicultural history and influence and lamenting the construction of dams that keep it from flowing freely.

This tension between flow and congestion runs through the show. “To Drive Away Whiteness/Para Alejar la Blancura,” is a rainbow-hued fishing net exuberantly stretched like an off-kilter hoop skirt and suspended from the ceiling. From its center hangs a column of glass bottles, each filled with dingy liquids and various items, among them currency and hair. The bottles, stagnant and stoppered, contrast with the fishing net — an object that lets water flow even as it allows people to catch the fish they need to survive.

Carolina Caycedo's "Undammed/Desbloqueada” (detail), 2017. (Ruben Diaz / Commonwealth & Council)Carolina Caycedo's "Undammed/Desbloqueada,” 2017. (Ruben Diaz / Commonwealth & Council)

Caycedo extends this idea of flow to her own body in “Undammed/Desbloqueada.” The sculpture is a hanging cone of fishing net whose bottom is a metal gold pan holding a Navajo sandstone and, unexpectedly, Caycedo’s IUD, which she had removed to “unblock” her own flow. While I quibble with the notion that birth control is a blockage — an intrauterine device certainly allows for other parts of life to flow more readily — the gesture creates a vital linkage between Mother Earth and our own bodies, one that we continue to neglect at our peril.

Commonwealth & Council, 3006 7th St., Suite 220, L.A. Through Oct. 21; closed Sundays and Mondays. ,

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