Dates2017 - Ongoing
Melissa Catanese turns her attention to the tense and confusing state of contemporary politics and culture her new series, “The Lottery”. Her selection of images bring together large groups of people, barren caverns, natural forces, physical exertion, and eruptions both crude and colorful. The accumulated manic puzzle shifts the viewer from crowded street to darkened cavern. Along the way, we see a geyser of oil, streaks of lightning, veins of molten rock, and cooling craters. Punctuating these natural phenomena are people in states of glee, pain, confusion, and anguish.
Melissa Catanese’s work blends anonymous photographs, press clips, and images from NASA’s archive with her own. Single images resemble sentence fragments that Catanese completes with her sequences. Sometimes seamlessly blending in, Catanese’s own images also act as punctuation throughout the work. This creates a sensation of call and response between the archival material and Catanese’s own images that brings to mind the Chauvet Cave in southeastern France.
The title, which orients our attention towards indeterminacy and chance, is
derived from the celebrated short story by Shirley Jackson about a small town in
Vermont that holds a lottery each year to determine which of it’s villagers will be stoned to death. Catanese uses dissonance, repetition, and stream of consciousness as structural devices to play off resonant themes and counter-themes of beauty and violence, conformity and alienation, empathy and cruelty. The result is a speculative fiction concerning her adversarial relationship with herself and nature, an appeal to an uncertain future haunted by the shockwaves of the past.
Throughout the image sequence, crowded masses of (mostly) white humans appear as both passive audiences and aggressive spectators, at once obsequious and agential. Through sleight-of-hand editing, these images offer a critique on the mythology of populism and a blind acceptance of humanity's capacity for violence and neglect in a time of growing nationalism and tribalism. Lone figures are seen clawing, swimming, bending, haunted and creaturely, isolated and immersed. Their presence is enveloped in celestial and terrestrial phenomena, a not-so-subtle catastrophic biosphere一explosive volcanic landscapes and corporeal underground chambers signal the pressure bubbling up and shifting from below. Merciless fires, lightning storms, and the radiating energy of the sun signal the unrelenting madness from above. The Lottery is a menacing and urgent story told from a perspective ranging from the distant past to the contemporary present, converging to evoke a psychological drama that constellates around physical, political, and ecological trauma. It carries the weight of loss with a distant hope for regeneration, questioning how one can feel at home in a world that is so strange, where the unimaginable so often enters into the realm of the real.
Catanese borrows the title from literature. In Shirley Jackson’s famous short story, a village casually embarks on a yearly ritual of selecting an individual and then stoning them to death. Catanese’s “The Lottery” teases out similar themes regarding ritual, culture, and the diffused accountability of a mob.
Melissa Catanese’s work blends anonymous photographs, press clips, and images from NASA’s archive with her own. Single images resemble sentence fragments that Catanese completes with her sequences. Sometimes seamlessly blending in, Catanese’s own images also act as punctuation throughout the work. This creates a sensation of call and response between the archival material and Catanese’s own images that brings to mind the Chauvet Cave in southeastern France. There, brilliant cave paintings date back 37,000 years. Over this enormous stretch of time, additional visitors added their own marks to the cave murals, sometimes with gaps of more than 5,000 years. The idea that collaboration can reach across time, decoding or willfully rethinking, is present throughout "The Lottery".