Balam Soto & Mary Anne McCarthy
West Gallery: June 24 – July 30, 2022

Opening Reception: Friday, June 24, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Virtual Artist Talk: Friday, July 8, 6:30 pm, Moderated by Matthew Best

Balam is a new media artist, and as that term suggests, his creations are continually evolving.  He learns new techniques and nuances of technology with each of his works.

I provide a contrast, I depict traditional subject matter, with traditional materials.  In fact, the tree drawings in this exhibit were done mostly in silverpoint, (which is literally using silver rather than graphite), one of the oldest media of drawing.  What appears to be pencil drawings in the European Renaissance are usually silver.  The graphite in contemporary pencils is still sometimes labeled as “lead”, which demonstrates that metal has always been an effective material for making marks on paper.  Lead obviously leads to health problems, and graphite is the better substitute.  My opinion is that silver is the most beautiful substance with which to draw.  It’s reflective.  It’s permanent.  It cannot be erased.  It ages gorgeously, developing warm and cool patinas. 

In this exhibit, we have both considered trees.  The cube sculpture originated from a conversation about the complexity of the rainforest, which Balam grew up in the vicinity of his hometown of Mixco, Guatemala.  There is a significance in structuring the sculpture; the wiring for the lights rests on the roof.  A rainforest is defined in that the majority of its life is sustained by sunlight and rain that hits its dense cover.  Other forests, and jungles, are a little broader in their definition and much of the action happens on the ground. 

With the sculpture, a viewer will touch a sensor, activated when they stand near it, and there will be changing patterns of lights that will be unique for each viewer. A person's presence influences and changes the work.

The conversation was sparked by the idea that an individual affects an ecosystem by their mere presence.  It leads to a chain of events, some subtle, some devastating.  We realized that there is a parallel in the technology itself, especially the online realm; a person types or comments or creates a thing online, on social media, google, etc., and it may be inconsequential or it may become “viral” and everlasting.  Individuals affect other individuals online, the process and the effect it is unpredictable and complex. 

I make drawings that would be classically described as “sketches”.  Sketch has the insinuation of being quickly and roughly done, but what the term initially intended was that the drawing is observational.  The artist is not designing the entire composition, but rather letting nature guide the details.  My drawings of trees take dozens, sometimes hundreds of hours to create.  They’re not quickly or roughly done.  I am observing nature, and I’m doing it in a way that happens to be more familiar with history.

My deliberation of this fact is that each detail of these trees was created by a complex sequence in nature.  I’m attempting to recreate that complexity.  I choose to take and work from photographs of trees that have deformities or are evidently managing to survive in difficult circumstances because I see this so immediately as a metaphor for resilient people. 

Herein lies the intersection of Balam’s and my work.  A human interacts and influences the world and alters it.  Humans are a part of nature.  Technology is the creation of people, and thus we feel it is also an aspect of nature. 

To simply exist is to risk being altered, often potentially in a negative way.  Balam’s work is about how people evolve and change the world with their presence, intellect, and ingenuity.  My work is about standing back and marveling at that process. 

To exist is to be changed, possibly damaged.  To be alive is to adapt and heal.  Though his and my work may seemingly be opposites, they actually both play off of this concept. 

We titled this show “Dendrites”, which is the Greek word for trees.  It has also been given to name a neuron that is integral to the human brain.  These neurons are shaped like trees, and they’re the key to human beings’ unique intelligence.  I’ve always had a suspicion that this is why humans find trees so beautiful and compelling (there is poetry lovely enough to rival trees, I’d argue against Kilmer, but not many). 

This again lends a metaphor to Balam’s work, because, as is so evident, humans’ dendritic neurons inhabit the top of their bodies.  That particular complexity and causality are at the top. 

Balam and I are very happily married now, and it’s been an incredible experience to marry the presence of our work.  Our work will continue to grow in unique and interesting ways much like the trees that have fascinated and inspired us in the particular exhibit. 

Balam Soto CV

Mary Anne McCarthy CV