Anxiety and Redemption at Melwood Galleries

November 3, 2010

Anxiety and Redemption, a collection of photographic works by Kerry Skarbakka,
will be in the Filmmakers Galleries from November 5th through December 5th.
The show is a combination of two series, The Struggle to Right Oneself and
Fluid. The Struggle to Right Oneself is a series of photographs in which Skarbakka
is falling, often from trees, through windows, or off of high cliffs and bridges.
Fluid is a response to global warming, showing surreal underwater images,
many of which are of Skarbakka himself, fully dressed in suits, looking anxious,
helpless or drowned.

Filmmakers interviewed Skarbakka about his upcoming show, and the symbolism,
history, and craft of his art.

Anxiety and Redemption captures the feelings of angst and helplessness that
have been predominant in our culture for the past decade. “Falling is a provocative
metaphor for loss of control,” says Skarbakka. His pictures capture “despondency,
all that pressure we put on ourselves as a society
just to live.” The images are
about “the act of losing control, of giving up control,” and the consequences

The pictures he creates are not altered;everything is shot on location, often
from great heights. He uses ropes, rigging, and landing pads, but has
nonetheless been hurt multiple times in the process, once even breaking a rib.

Many of his photos are serendipitous.”If I come upon a place that I feel may be
interesting, I infuse my
body within the scene with plausibility,” making it look
“as real as possible.” “Some are just going for
it, and some are controlled.” If he
finds an edifice or natural precipice that looks right for his series, he
sets up and
is “in and out quick and fast.” His art is guerrilla, and he doesn’t always have
permission to
shoot in the place he is shooting. “The cops have only come once,
” when he was jumping off a
billboard by the interstate north of Chicago.
The police were concerned about the activity, but more
importantly, about
his large 4 x 5 camera, which they mistook for something more sinister.

The underwater shots are planned out in advance, and involve scouting areas
underwater. The deepest
he has photographed was 100 feet, off the coast of
Honduras. With a team of divers, he dives, shoots,
then places himself in the
scene and shoots again. He wears gear to get to his location, but casts it off

for the pictures, so that the image is of a man in land attire underwater.

Skarbakka started creating the images for Fluid before the Indonesian tsunami
and before Katrina. The
underwater shots represent “the silent result of things,”
and are “more of a warning.” Global Warming
may not always cause us to be
physically underwater, but we will find ourselves helpless in an

Skarbakka grew up on a farm in Tennessee in a Pentecostal family. “The fear of
Death was used for
control. If you died impure, you were likely to go to hell.”
In 1999, his mother died, and he used his
portfolio of her death as his portfolio
for graduate school. His upbringing and the death of his mother
caused him to
think about “transcendence, death, rites of passage,” and experiences that are

“transformative,” themes that have been present in his work since the beginning,
and have intensified
over the last decade.

“September eleventh was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was an emotional,
serious time. The
world changed, and I needed to make serious, sophisticated art”
His works focused on the anxieties
that were no longer internal, but shared
throughout the culture. He combined that “bundled energy,”
along with his love
of rock climbing, martial arts, acting, and sculpture, and placed them into a 2

dimensional surface. For this reason, Skarbakka’s work is physical, visceral, and,
although made of
stills, has a strong sense of movement.

Although the fear and despondency that resulted from September eleventh have
affected his works,
none of his photographs reference that day. They are
symbolic of the feeling of loss of control, on both
personal and societal levels.
His work has, however, been misinterpreted in the past. One of his
shows Skarbakka falling past a window of the Museum of Contemporary Art in
The making of this photograph generated publicity, and many
journalists came to report on the scene.
One journalist who was not present for
the shooting claimed that Skarbakka was imitating people
falling from the Twin
Towers. This story gained traction, and was put in the Sun Times and the Daily

News without the papers doing any fact checking. The story spread to Brooklyn,
where Skarbakka was
living, and caused him to be the victim of death threats and
hate mail. Mayor Bloomberg called his
work “nauseatingly offensive.” He had to
grow a beard and disappear from the public eye. The furor
has mostly calmed down,
especially since Skarbakka’s appearance in April on the Today Show, where
he was
able to “put to peace” the situation. “My work is about crisis in general, not a
particular crisis.”

Anxiety and Redemption will be on exhibit in Filmmakers Galleries through
December 5, 2010. Kerry
Skarbakka will be giving an artist talk on Thursday,
November 18 with a reception from 5:30-8:00 and
the artist talk at 7:00 pm
in the gallery. Admission is free.


One comment

  1. I’m glad to be able to see this kind of art in Pittsburgh.

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