Alexa Horchowski’s Under the Sea-Wind

Ryan Fontaine

Hello! Welcome back to TEMP Reviews. 

After publishing seven reviews in 2020 by Mike Curran, Brooks Turner, and myself, our first time around was halted by the COVID pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. Pretty quickly there were no shows to review and we never quite found our way back to this project once things returned, more or less, to normal. We still held the belief that with all of the great work happening, the Twin Cities needed and deserves more arts writing. This time around we have funding via the Andy Warhol Foundation and Midway Contemporary Art’s Visual Art Fund.

TEMP begins anew with a review of Alexa Horochowski’s solo show Under the Sea-Wind at
Dreamsong. We are wide open to proposals for reviews of Twin Cities based art exhibitions so let us know if you have something you would like to write about or if there are any questions or comments about the site.

Under the Sea-Wind is a triumph, a convincing example of immersive expanded cinema that incorporates the full spectrum of Alexa Horochowski’s artistic skill set. Although, in some ways less may have been more.

The exhibition, following the layout of the gallery, is divided in two parts that, while connected thematically and materially, feel very different.

Crossing the outside threshold into the first space, we are embraced by Wrack Line, a multimedia installation that is the centerpiece of the show, and we are immediately in it. Horochowski has accomplished something special here. All of the components work in tandem to create a mood, to convey an idea, to carve a space for introspection and contemplation. Scale is crucial and while the actual room’s dimensions are modest, the diagonally projected film collage of various shorelines are larger than us and above us in orientation, expanding the space and creating a feeling of vulnerability and inconsequentiality much as the actual sea does. This perspective can allow us to see our quotidian concerns and problems for how transitory they really are. On the other hand, as we move further from the Holocene epoch—in which humans are only one of many constituent parts that make up our living planetary system—into the Anthropocene epoch—in which we are the predominant agents of environmental change on a global scale—the precarity of our collective situation is revealed everywhere, even in some of the most pristine locations on the planet.

Wrack Line, 2024

Wrack Line
conveys this contradictory experience of comfort and alarm on an emotional level. The wrack line is the place where ocean meets land at high tide and is a crucial transitional feature of the coast, providing habitat and nutrients for life on both sides of the water/land border. Horochowski’s version is made up of fabricated and found objects placed on a large, flat steel stage. Styrofoam cups, a rubber glove, a sandal, a surgical mask, plastic bottles, a gas can, a buoy and rope, an anchor, sit alongside more “natural” objects such as fish, barnacles, and shells. It’s fascinating to see how an artist places objects within an array such as this, and Horochowski nails the balance between composed and “random,” holding onto a vitality that is augmented by the projected sea images raking along the floor and up the wall. The whole room feels kinetic. The monochrome gray surfaces of the objects cast in concrete, aluminum, pewter and lead make good canvases for the grayness of the moving images, and the shadows thrown by some of the taller objects help tie the vertical and horizontal surfaces of wall and floor together in complimentary relief. Among the wrack line objects are two feet and a hand picking up a shell, oriented so we can picture the missing body, a ghostly stand-in inserting itself into the picture. Elsewhere, another hand emerges from a shell. This surrealistic addition acts as a welcome counterpoint to the mundane nature of many of the other objects, without which the overall realism might feel a little dry. In a similar way, there is a particular starfish cast in pewter rather than concrete whose shiny gold center fades outward to silver. This one moment of color in a field of gray really pops. It’s moves like these that elevate the entire installation, making us feel we are secure in the hands of an artist who is taking everything into consideration. 

Wrack Line, 2024

I also liked the singular appearance of black line in the rope attached to the buoy, but was left wondering why there were any found objects at all. If you’ve taken it this far, why not cast everything? It felt like an oversite and momentarily broke the spell.

The film itself is a series of various coastlines, some placid and still, some chaotic scenes of waves crashing against rocks. Calm moments of expansive, panned-out views, intersperse close-up shots of breaking waves or sea foam. At times fishermen appear, or heads of figures submerged, or surfers. Birds make their appearance sonically and visually. Shots of different locations are spliced together without subtle fading yet it doesn’t feel jarring. There is variation but it evolves slowly allowing contemplation but never lingering too long. The more we watch the more is revealed of subtle, candid narratives unwinding before us. The soundscore (produced with Ben Pagel and Joe Thoen of Artifact Shore) is a perfect complement to what we are seeing. A mash-up of site recordings, waves, wind, thunder, synthesized sounds, samples of birds, drums, growls, whale sounds, chanting, or at least the impression of those things,but most source sounds are rendered unrecognizable through filtering and tempo change. It all has a flux and flow with moments of near silence and moments of drama. The film clocks in at around 15 minutes while the audio loops at 20 minutes and this asynchronous discrepancy creates evolving and fascinating new juxtapositions each time around. Wrack Line had me wanting to stick around for awhile and to revisit and I wish more expanded cinema style installations could pull off this simple yet elusive feat: it’s entertaining.

Cochayuyo, 2014/2024

As we enter the second room of the show, it is a bit of a shock to leave behind almost completely the immersive feeling that Wrack Line held so effectively. It makes sense in that there is no projected film here to envelope us and implicate even the architecture of the space in our experience. Also, unlike Wrack Line this room is not an installation but a collection of discrete objects on (beautiful) steel framed concrete surfaced platforms. Still, there must have been a way to create less of an abrupt shift in mood between the two rooms. One of the sculptures, that of a schooner called Derelict, feels out of place, its patinated black bronze skeletal line drawing too much attention from the other objects which are in a more direct and effective conversation with Wrack Line materially and thematically. I say this well aware of a boat sculpture’s potential place in the overall nautical theme. Yet the scale is wrong and it feels of a different show. These complaints aside, Horochowski’s objects are fantastic. The star of the back room array is Cochayuyo, a cast sculpture of a bull kelp specimen and the only other bronze in the room besides Derelict. Cochayuyo dazzles in a way similar to Wrack Line’s lone golden starfish. It’s an anomaly in a crowd of gray concrete that compliments the group well, taking the spotlight then throwing it back on all of the others. Barnacle, a concrete and gypsum sculpture of a barnacle encrusted rock with fingers protruding implausibly, is another strong piece. It stands out through complexity of form and an absurdist sensibility that is not as present elsewhere in the show. There are two realistic life-sized human heads encrusted with sea life that feel archetypical. One is masculine, The Mason, one is feminine, La Sirena. Both are effective studies in figuration, with La Sirena the stronger of the two. Her closed-eye, contemplative expression is spot-on, almost allowing us to hear the soothing drone emanating from the shell covering her ear.

Under the Sea-Wind, and in particular Wrack Line, is some of Horochowski’s strongest work to date. Although she has touched on this type of multidimensional approach in previous shows, the seamless integration and cohesion here feels new and like a real breakthrough.

La Sirena, 2024
Wrack Line, 2024
Derelict, 2024
Barnacle, 2024

Under the Sea-Wind is open at Dreamsong in Minneapolis, January 12–February 23, 2024. Curated by Greg Smith and Rebecca Heidenberg.