Rose B. Simpson's Exhibit Dissects the Meaning of "Ground"
November 21, 2016
by Haley Goodman
Right now, the Rose B. Simpson exhibition Ground is at the Pomona College Museum of Art. Though it is comprised of only two rooms, the exhibit is a thought-provoking meditation encompassing and refracting different themes related to Native American heritage, the earth, and modern culture. Right as you walk in, there’s a quote emblazoned on the wall illuminating the different meanings of the word “ground.”
The four meanings:
1) the past tense verb and how it relates to history;
2) building a strong foundation;
3) smoothing wear;
4) the place where one finds one’s feet.
Simpson centers on how we define ourselves in relating to ground within each of these connotations. Such pieces seek to analyze the human relationship using one or all of the themes. In the first room, seven large clay masks hang on the wall—all with the same expressions, yet with different faces and patterns. The faces are called “Ancestors” and relate to the power of the ands and toil over time. In this same room, two large looming sculptures, side by side, center and anchor the room. Physically incongruous from the masks, the sculptures are two large human figures wearing all-black outfits adorned with hoods. These gothic statues are meant to be post-culture, according to the catalog. Such apocalyptic figures tower and dominate the room. One sculpture is hunched over, kneeling towards the ground with large black wings. This push and pull duality connects back to the titular theme. I interpreted these works to question modern America’s roots and where we are today, as well as the functional disconnect and seemingly opposing nature of the two.
The second room contains a bust as well as curated Native American artifacts. Because the origins of the objects are anonymous, they gain almost utilitarian and communal quality. In Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, she discusses the idea of “work” as the product of human hands and the finite personal value of such. Perhaps this draws a line to Simpson’s work as something that often gets discounted as labor and productivity overshadow it. Yet, Simpson makes a case for the power derived through handmade objects.
While the art pieces call upon further inspection, the quotes festooned throughout may be the most powerful part of the entire installation. One quote in particular discusses the power of an individual stone turning from cold to warm with human touch, which returns one to nature and safety, invoking the sense of nasality one gets from grounded, organic objects.
In the catalog, Simpson discusses the exhibition in more depth. She notes that “art separate from life is a Western framework” calling upon the viewer to think about context and perception as an underlying, almost subconscious act one does while viewing art. These catalogs are strewn throughout the exhibition and offer a further layer to Ground – a must read as it provides immense insight and bit of existential questioning.
If ever-compounding work is stressing you out and you need a quick, quiet break, I would highly recommend making your way down to the Museum to gaze at Simpson’s work. I was thoroughly impressed by Simpson’s delicate dismantling and reassembling of “ground,” deconstructing and then re-constructing the meanings. The immensely layered and nuance pieces provide an escape. On Thursdays, the Museum is open late for Art After Hours where there are refreshments and snacks and you can mingle amongst the art!
The Museum is open Tuesday–Sunday 12pm–5pm and is open until 11pm on Thursdays. Ground will be at the Museum until December 17.