Critics’ Picks

View of “Pine’s Eye,” 2020.

View of “Pine’s Eye,” 2020.


“Pine’s Eye”

Talbot Rice Gallery | The University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh Old College, South Bridge
February 29–May 9, 2020

One possible translation of Pinocchio, the Italian children’s tale immortalized by Disney’s 1940 film, is “pine’s eye.” This animistic interpretation, with its evocation of nature looking back at—and judging—human activity, catalyzed the current group show here, which underscores the imbrication of ecological and decolonial thinking.

Firelei Báez covers maps, diagrams, and book pages with intricate paintings that deconstruct the epistemological and material colonization of the Caribbean and celebrate resistant knowledge forms. A green-blue nebula partially blots out the floor plan for a sugar refinery, while the Ciguapa trickster figure of Dominican folklore, whose feet point backward to elude capture, weaves her defiant path across multiple panels. Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’s films examine the interconnected effects of US military testing, colonialism, and tourism on Puerto Rico, and the island’s counterstrategies developed in response. Matrulla, 2014, follows Pablo Díaz Cuadrado caring for plants and animals in what remains of a 1960s commune, and Black Beach/Horse/Camp/The Dead/Forces, 2016, combines footage of a sea ritual at Vieques island, a former bombing range, with rhythmic shots of glittering waves and foam, which cast their own regenerative spell.

Johanna Unzueta’s striking abstract mural referencing indigenous craft practices in South America dominates the opening room. It forms a powerful setting for the masks on view by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Alan Hunt and activist Beau Dick, which illuminate parallel modes of decolonial dissent between the “natural” and “human” structures of domination. The exhibition continues in the adjacent Georgian Gallery, and although the room embodies this damaging Enlightenment legacy, here the intervention feels less pointed than it might. Ana Mendieta’s drawings provide an important historical anchor, but they look slightly lost in separate niches along the powder-blue walls of the upper walkway, so that the architecture vividly—if perhaps unintentionally—demonstrates the endurance of ruling structures. However, Haegue Yang’s futuristic woven straw personages unequivocally occupy the ground floor, returning to the tactics of rerouting and displacement traced compellingly throughout.