Overview by Patricia Spears Jones
I have begun to believe in signs and portents. Finding the work of DENISE MILAN could only have happened because of the development of this issue of About Place. I met Ms. Milan by happenstance or by design—she was with the poet Vincent Katz who introduced us. We started talking, I told her about this project and she gave me a copy of a catalogue for her traveling installation Mist of the Earth, which had recently opened at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. Turns out she was a highly regarded, much exhibited artist from Brazil. I looked at the photographs in her catalogue and I was fascinated by their beauty and complexity. We exchanged emails and now, her work serves as a visual frame for this issue.
What amazes me is that Ms. Milan was in New York in the early 1980s and that she studied playwriting, dance, theater with major experimental writer/directors Lee Breuer from Mabou Mines and The Performance Garage’s Richard Schechner—people I know. She exhibited in a group show at PS 1 in 1988. She had been exhibiting in her home town, Sao Paolo since 1981 and in Seattle and Chicago as well as New York City.
We are sharing on a few of Denise Milan’s powerful images. Her art work combines photography, materials, and scale to create perspectives in ways that seem both familiar and utterly novel. Her eye is expansive–as willing to explore the heart of a geode as it is a flower. Simon Watson noted, who after seeing “hundreds and hundreds of photographs and collages” . . . “The photographs were of people, landscape and geodes, which in [his] view expressed her artistic focus on the unique relationship between culture and landscape in Brazil.” Mist of the Earth is both deeply situated in Brazil, but these images speak to the beauty, the anxiety, the harsh fears of the present time and what could possibly endure.
Along with the visual art of Janet Goldner, Margo Berdeshevky, Verneda Lights and Tsaurah Litsky, Milan’s artistic focus shows us where we are and where we may go. Simon Watson points out: “So while Mist of the Earth bears witness to the tragedies of humanity’s depredations, it also introduces the power of repair and the space for healing.” Many of the works in The Future Imagined Differently confront those depredations, but look towards not only healing, but a new way to thrive.