Critics’ Picks

Anastasia Samoylova, Camouflage, 2017, archival pigment print, 40 x 32". From the series “FloodZone,” 2016–.

Anastasia Samoylova, Camouflage, 2017, archival pigment print, 40 x 32". From the series “FloodZone,” 2016–.


Anastasia Samoylova

Dot Fiftyone
7275 NE 4th Ave. #101
June 18–September 14, 2020

In 1987, Joan Didion described the sun-drenched existential reality of Miami as floating “between a mangrove swamp and a barrier reef.” Pictured through the camera lens of Anastasia Samoylova more than three decades later, this constructed paradise is beginning to look more like a modern-day Atlantis. With her extensive, multiyear photo series “FloodZone,” 2016–, Samoylova homes in on the effects of rising sea levels in the southern United States and renders our climate crisis as something gradual, inconspicuous—a creeping and lethal menace that can feel deceptively ordinary. Akin to Didion’s exacting prose, Samoylova’s incisive visual poetry marries documentary to anxious premonitions, montaging mirage with somber reality.

Reflective surfaces and refracted light appear throughout Samoylova’s pictures, mirroring the paradoxical ways a glaring sun can mask harsh truths about south Florida. Water Shade, 2018, captures an uncanny sense of dislocation: What at first appears to be a shimmering pool of water is actually a printed plastic barrier against the sun, set within a car’s front windshield. In Staircase at King Tide, 2019, the titular structure is reflected by glassy groundwater, creating an illusionistic path that leads to nowhere. The buoyant tropical pinks that appear throughout the series declare the hubris of a place which overwhelmingly denies its own sinking fate.

Samoylova’s photos are largely empty of living beings. But when creatures do appear, they are almost always alone: In one work, a swollen manatee stares out dolefully at the viewer; elsewhere, emerging from the shadows, a bright flamingo strains its neck, holding us with its beady-eyed gaze. Moments of delayed recognition abound:Roots shows a fully deracinated tree miraculously standing, its tendril-like roots grasping sandy soil for balance, while Camouflage (both 2017) presents a sidelong image of a lush yet faux tropical forest—reproduced on a tarp and wrapped around a stack of plywood—standing before a chain-link fence. “FloodZone” calls attention to the facades and contradictions of the submerging subtropics that are, to borrow poet Stevie Smith’s turn of phrase, “not waving but drowning.”