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Art review: Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison at Cardwell Jimmerson

October 9, 2009 | 10:30 am

Cardwell The work of Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison falls somewhere between prophecy, poetry and proposition. For nearly 40 years, the Harrisons have identified places where we’ve torn the life-web and devised strategies for its repair. They are healers (in the spirit of the Jewish mandate tikkun olam, repairing the world) as much as they are artists, but in their practice the two impulses are inseparable.

Though they have sustained a substantial presence in Europe for the last 15 years, the California-based artists have long been neglected on their own turf. Cardwell Jimmerson has applied a small patch to that gaping hole with an exhibition surveying recent projects, as well as a few stretching back to the ’70s, including Newton Harrison’s solo contribution to LACMA’s landmark Art and Technology project of 1971.

Because of the scope and complexity of the Harrisons’ work, any such sampling is bound to feel grossly abbreviated, but the show does a respectable job introducing the artists’ methods (conversation, meditation, narrative), formats (maps, texts, diagrams) and most importantly, their key concerns (restoring the integrity of ecosystems, encouraging collaborative solutions).

It’s the ideas, the articulate framing of issues and possibilities that most seduce in their work, not the visuals, which used to have more of a homespun touch but now rely chiefly on digital maps and press-on letters. Each project is a petition of sorts, for expanded awareness and, more practically, new forms of governance — a “trans-regional watershed authority” in the European Union, for instance, to address the drought expected to creep across Europe in the next 100 years and render farmland unproductive.
“We are facing a force majeure mostly of our own making,” the Harrisons assert. Their work diligently and provocatively sets about un-making it.

Cardwell Jimmerson Contemporary Art, 8568 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 815-1100, through Oct. 31. Closed Sunday and Monday.

--Leah Ollman

Above: "Peninsula Europe" from Force Majeure 2008, Helen Mayer Harrison and Newt
on Harrison. Photo credit: Ronald Feldman Gallery