Hostage 61 is Earth

World torn asunder in Deanna Pindell’s art installation, Hostage 61.

By Lisa Kinoshita

Hostage 61, an ecological artwork by Deanna Pindell at the Woolworth Windows, is a tour de force entwining elements of epic poetry and scientific treatise. Pindell’s art installation is a beautiful, deeply disturbing work; a deconstructed environment where decimated forest – dismembered wood chunks hanging from the rafters and randomly lashed with steel cable – forms the backdrop for an inquiry into the human race’s “adaptive capacity” to survive.

Traces of a future extinction?
Traces of a future extinction?

“Our relationship with the trees in our lives is complicated,” Pindell explains. “Sometimes we write poetry about them; other times we chop them down to improve the view. We dread climate change, yet we devalue and disrupt the mortal forests that protect the skin of this earth.”

The 61 of the title “refers to a study by arboreal ecologist Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, in which she and her graduate students surveyed the trees on Earth, and as of New Year’s morning 2008, counted 61 trees per person on this planet. How many remain, today? How many are enough? No one knows; it is a gambling game we play with our planet.” Hostage 61 prompts viewers to investigate the ways they impact the environment through “61 Mortal Decisions” represented by the same number of “specimens” collected in mason jars, indexed and displayed in the window.

A ceramic bird caught mid-flight in bands of inner-tube rubber.

Set on timber cross-sections, the clear glass jars hold natural objects (e.g., ground bones from a poisoned orca); manufactured items (such as a non-recyclable printer cartridge); and hybrids of the two (most startling: GMO seeds). These quiet evocations ask viewers to take pause and consider “the complexity of the poignant choices facing us,” says Pindell. Chaos theory “proposes that any seemingly insignificant action, even the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings, could have a ripple effect that impacts the entire planet….Here are the relics of the tiny decisions that might accumulate into an environmental disaster, or not.”

Pindell has created a Hostage 61 “interactive scavenger hunt [and] webpage”, an online key providing clues and information about the exhibit. It’s impossible to read down the index of artifacts without free associating: matchsticks spark thoughts of whittled forests and of wildfires; a bird’s skull conjures the “Pacific Garbage Patch”, that island of plastic scum the size of Australia that is trapped in the whirling currents of the Pacific Ocean. “Let’s examine the seemingly small choices we make each day, to realize the ripple effect that impacts our entire planet,” she says. “The questions of personal and collective responsibility for deforestation and climate change are more timely than ever….I have just begun teaching at UW Tacoma and would love to engage this community.” Pindell’s exquisitely chosen objects – some once living – present a nightmare impossible to look away from.

Hostage 61, on view at the Woolworth Windows, S. 11th & Commerce, through Dec. 10, 2014.