Rena Detrixhe, Place Out of Matter
A deeply rich earthy red rug welcomes the visitors in the gallery space. It is made of red dirt collected from central Oklahoma, carefully sifted into a fine dust, layered and decorated by the artist Rena Detrixhe. Its hues and its material instantly evoke the Western, in this case particularly the midwestern, American landscape with all its ecological, spiritual and historical undertones. A soft, warm, organic material that according to the artist “symbolises grit, perseverance, sorrow, pain, spirit, resilience”.
This inviting earthwork however sets up its own boundaries or rather alarms ever so subtly. A smooth surface that feels alive at the same time and its pressed patterns that follow human concepts such as geometry and symmetry is loaded with associations that imply various aspect of our society’s past and present. The rug, that is mainly associated with ceremonial purposes in the east and with luxury, comfort and status in western societies appears as a cover-up at the same time. What is hidden under Detrixhe’s Red Dirt Rug metaphorically is hard to capture exactly but the material and symbolism leads us to the ideas of land and its people – past, present and future -, and to history’s darkest hours of which we tend to not remember.
The source of the dirt is the land of the Dust Bowl, the end of the Trail of Tears which carries the heavy memories of multiple layers of hardship and human suffering. Such notions, seeped into the soil, carried over to Detrixhe’s artwork serving more like a humble memento than a monument to the transitory nature of things. Nothing else shows this clearer than an earlier outdoor iteration of the piece at the Botanical Garden of Oklahoma State University (Stillwater, Oklahoma). Executed last year and left to the elements of nature that eventually transformed it by turning it back to where it came from, Red Dirt Rug essentially emphasized one of our most basic existential experiences.
On it’s surface, Red Dirt Rug carries patterns of the midwestern landscape’s signature elements, such as cobs of corn, beehives, swallows, tractor tires and oil rigs all created by imprinting fragments cut from shoe soles. Carefully created marks that, when their origin is recognized, may mirror and even magnify not only the human presence, and the gesture of leaving a mark, but also our general ignorance to our footprint and its implications on the land and on future generations.
One aspect of the work that is strikingly obvious at first sight is the actual labor invested in its creation. It took Detrixhe a week to realize the current site-specific version of the piece on the gallery’s concrete floor. A careful and meticulous act done with great concentration and perseverance adding a performative aspect to the work. Imagining this meditative act, Diné (Navajo) sand paintings come to mind that, although from a different region, were historically made with similar reverence, patience and with the purpose of healing. And indeed the result of Detrixhe’s week-long action is a fragile and ephemeral piece that is in itself seem to transmit spiritual energies. In the earlier mentioned outdoor iteration of the piece, Detrixhe took several days to install the piece in the Botanical Garden of Oklahoma State University. “In the days following the installation, Stillwater was graced with a much needed heavy rain, thus beginning the process of erasing the pattern and returning the soil to the land.” – the artist reported. But while one might sense sorrow in the work, through its captivating beauty one also feels the possibility of a raised awareness, and through that of hope. Like tender yet resilient footsteps on the long rode of healing accompanied and washed off by the ever returning rain.