Drowning World is a visual attempt to capture the magnitude of climate change through portraits of flood survivors taken in deep floodwaters within the remains of their homes or in submerged landscapes, in the stillness of once lively environments. Keeping their composure, the photographed subjects pause in front of Gideon Mendel’s camera, casting an unsettling yet engaging gaze. Taken across the world, these images bear witness to a shared experience that erases geographical and cultural divides. They invite the viewers to reflect on our impact on nature and ultimately on our own attachment to our homes and personal belongings. Beyond the documentary aspect of this project, Mendel’s work subtly treads on the aesthetics of portraiture, a genre of which he pushes the boundaries by setting its décor in unlikely environments. Each portrait isolates individuals, couples, or small groups that would otherwise be reduced to statistics. They also reveal their personalities and status through their clothes, style, even elegance.
Likewise, traces that have resisted the power of waters are reminders inscribed on wiped out streets and empty houses. These narratives take the form of writings on boards or pictures on walls. Mendel draws our attention to abandoned or lost photographs to which he lends a second lease on life as found images, still lives, or objects containing anonymous memories. A disastrous element, water also contributes to the creative process. Washed out pigments create new painterly patterns, damaged films produce soft tones and mysterious haze, while architecture and landscape are reflected in the sparkling natural mirror.
Gideon Mendel: Drowning World is organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and curated by Caitlín Doherty, Curator and Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs. Support for this exhibition is provided by the MSU Broad’s general exhibitions fund.