Critics’ Picks

View of “Currents: Latifa Echakhch,” 2012.

Columbus

Latifa Echakhch

Columbus Museum of Art
480 East Broad Street
January 13 - April 1

Tumbleweeds are uncanny things—dead yet animated, rooted yet mobile. When resources run dry, they surrender their lives to the wind in order to find new, richer ground where they can lay down their seeds and start again. They are at once harbingers of despair and hope. Latifa Echakhch has scattered scores of these ghostly beings throughout the galleries of the Columbus Museum of Art. She offsets their fragile minimalism and slow, sneaking movements with a set of lithographic stones, precariously perched on the gallery’s walls—they are small slabs, but their brute weight threatens to pull down the plaster and nails from which they hang. Like the delicate plants that cower beneath them, they, too, are ghosts. Their surfaces have been washed clean of all of the countless images they may have once held, yet each has been titled with the name of a print from the museum’s Schiller Collection that would fit neatly in the boundaries of the corresponding stone. The titles are enigmatic and poetic—Southern Night, The Perception of Non-Possession, Sun and Dust. No amount of searching in the stones’ glossy surfaces will reveal the images belonging to those titles, which are depictions of harrowing life in the 1930s—lynch mobs, panhandlers, and Dust Bowl landscapes. The heaviness of the stones resides as much in their history and potential futures as in their thickness. Echakhch’s installation gracefully invokes Michael Fried’s observation that Minimalist objects “crowd” and “distance” the viewer with their silent, embodied presences. Here, the threatening force of the lithographic stones pushes the viewer from the wall and backward toward the delicate tumbleweeds that need only the slightest touch to crumble or scatter. While the Rust Belt is a bit far to the northeast for Dust Bowl narratives and itinerant tumbleweeds, they seem eerily at home among the abandoned homes and silent factories of the region’s shrinking cities. Echakhch proposes the present as an anxious and fraught space, caught between the heavy and the light, the seeded and the fallow, the desperate and the hopeful, the forceful and the fragile, the indecisive and the ready for action.