Ellen Gallagher is one of the most remarkable artists working today. In her work she bridges the gap between organic iconographies based on microbiological forms from oceanography, and racialized icons and symbols. She reinterprets both everyday images and black idols from pop culture as she wrangles with American history and culture. With her poetic and playful vocabulary, she explores North American stories and tropes that are also highly topical in current European debates on decolonization, underpinning an ecological consciousness of human existence. Gallagher develops surrealistic iconographies that depict the mythical worlds of Afrofuturism with the legacy of the artist Sun Ra, of subsea life forms and of the 'Black Atlantic' and the Middle Passage, the slave route across the Atlantic Ocean.
The collaboration of Gallagher with Edgar Cleijne, Dutch photographer and film artist, connects them in a reflection on the transformation of landscapes and worlds. Together they created two film installations: Osedax, based on ‘whale fall’ - the scientific term for dead whales that have fallen to the ocean floor and are consumed by scavengers -, and the more recent Highway Gothic, a meditation on the ecological and cultural implications of the Interstate 10 highway that cuts through the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans. Both evoke hypnotic, enchanting worlds populated with micro-organisms and submarine life forms and the mythical stories of the African diaspora.
In addition to the installations, the exhibition presents paintings, drawings and collages that trace the development of Gallagher's work over the last twenty years in series such as The Black Paintings, Negroes battling in a cave, Watery Ecstatic, Morphia, An Ecstatic Draught of Fishes, and DeLuxe.