Breaching Boundaries: Thoughts on Pomona College Museum of Art’s BREACH, Intermodal


Anna Mitchell ’22

Staff Writer

Imbuing the spirit of the sea into commonplace material, so as to immerse me, the viewer, a swimmer. A small swimmer in a vast unknown palace, bearing at the forefront its haunted memories of exploitation at the hands of those not too different from myself. Intermodal, BREACH, is like a dreamscape, a dark mélange of painful exploits. Suddenly, the gaping wall-wounds threaten blood, their protruding pipes now recognizable as intruding, plunged into the flesh of the whale, the unadulterated wild of the seas.

Wounds gape vulnerable to the viewer in concentric rings of flesh-like reds and pinks. From their centers jut pipes, oyster bejeweled, half-shrouded by the low lit room. The pipes cast shadows, those of mechanical limbs, protruding and disrupting the homeostatic tranquility of the scene. A dark cavern, an alternate planet, this is the pits of the sea and its fragile skin, its surface, all tied to the one indigenous basket suspended and illuminated, a symbol of human connection to the sea.

“‘BREACH’ is an exploration of historical ties to water and whale, imposed law, and a current relationship of material sustainability,” writes artist Courtney M. Leonard on her multi-year, multimedia project BREACH, currently being shown at the Pomona College Museum of Art. The artist’s statement resonates; we might venture to say it pirouettes in the eddy of the observational experience. But this piece—while elegant—does not dwell on the delicate. Rather, it engages in a conversation with violence and power, a most visceral discourse.

This particular installation is entitled Intermodal, hinting at both the piece’s ephemerality and its inherent spirit of evolution. The term may even remind us of the tides, harkening to the intertidal zone, that rich space between the sea and the land, teeming with life and change from phytoplankton to driftwood timber.

Leonard—of the Shinnecock Nation—not only asks but demands those who enter the deep-sea sphere of BREACH to consider themselves a whale, robbed of its teeth. (Two piles of life sized ceramic whale teeth are posed like middens on construction pallets, eerily luminous, so gracefully sculpted for the stolen bones of murdered creatures.) Or, perhaps, to inhabit the oyster’s shell, finding a place of grounding in the rusted pipes, and clinging on, at peace with the demands of survival. Or better yet the whale itself, here fragmented into relics of its full being. Leonard casts her multi-textured net over us, the viewers, possessing us with the experiential weight of the exploitation humankind has wrought on the oceans.

To call it a mediation on the marine and the terrestrial, the artificial and the natural, would be reducing Leonard’s artistry to expressive. To call it an investigation of space and time itself, insufficient. It is reactive, pulsing, dripping, oozing, crunching, sighing with the full ethereality of the ocean and its creatures.

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