Death is inevitable. It becomes the destination on each of our journeys, and calls for the illustrious and infamous alike. When death calls for human lives we have mourning; pageantry and ritual allow us to grapple with loss and grief. What happens, however, when death calls for the lives of animals? Who mourns their loss – either by the hands of mankind, or through natural causes – what becomes of their stories, and moreover what happens to the narrative of an entire species once it has been erased from creation. Adele Henderson’s exhibit, Red List, on view now at Indigo Gallery, begins to unpack the imbroglio of species-wide extinction and chart the transit of these species from arcane footnotes and dusty tomes toward something closer to illuminated, tangible narratives.
Henderson’s exhibit stems from Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia; an eight-volume set of encyclopedias from 1898 of extinct and (contemporaneously) endangered species. She culls her visual imagery from engravings within the original pages, enlarges them, and transfers them to lithographic plates. The images of beast and fowl alike are then superimposed upon fields of color, systems of measure, and in some cases, elements from Henderson’s previous bodies of work. This is all in an effort to make visual, to make manifest, these creatures and earthly inhabitants that no longer exist. Henderson’s adroit compositions aside, each work of art becomes “hand-illuminated” through the effusive dispersal of margin notes drawn from her own research separate from the aforementioned dictionary source. Through this Henderson not only aesthetically layers the work within Red List, but she also grasps the opportunity to semiotically layer it with anecdotes, research, and visual ephemera.
It becomes important to note that each work within Red List is unique. This may not sound like an extraordinary feat in the offing, but it is irregular by and large for a printmaker of Henderson’s extended career to not make multiples, and to serialize printed bodies of work. This is due in large measure to the discreet ways in which each work of art is handled after being lithographically printed, through heretofore-mentioned alterations. The gesture becomes the emotive lynchpin within the exhibit, whereby none of the extinct creatures made manifest through Henderson’s Lazarus-esque printing press are duplicated. There is no one-two pairing, no set to set aboard an Ark to rescue them from the charted arc of fate. They are forever extinct within both the realized, physical realm as well as their analogous two-dimensional illuminations.
This gesture of futility – of production and reproduction – piques at a moment within culture and popular culture alike where these things are policed across human bodies through public policy and dystopia such as The Handmaid’s Tale. This is what makes Henderson’s work, which usually deals in terms more expressly political, as well as pressingly prescient, all the more in keeping with the ethos of the day. By looking backward we are able to discover that which we have lost through the rigors of time, disease and human intervention. Red List pushes us to not look only backward, but also cautions us about the path(s) ahead. The exhibit is on view now through a revised closing date of June 8, 2018. Hours and availability for Indigo Gallery can be found at indigoartbuffalo.com.