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Art Review: 'Charlotte Dumas: Anima' at Silver Eye Center for Photography

| Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Charlotte Dumas | Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York
Charlotte Dumas, 'Roosevelt, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia,' 2012 pigment print
Charlotte Dumas | Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York
Charlotte Dumas, 'Patton, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia,' 2012
Charlotte Dumas | Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York
Charlotte Dumas, 'Middle, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia,' 2012
Charlotte Dumas | Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York
Charlotte Dumas, 'Major II, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia,' 2012

The exhibit “Charlotte Dumas: Anima” at South Side's Silver Eye Center for Photography features several large-scale photographs of the majestic burial horses at Arlington National Cemetery after a long day.

These close-range portraits show the horses in their respective stalls as they lay down to sleep. The images capture these otherwise intimidating animals in tender moments, with eyes slowly drooping, muscles relaxing and their whole being given over to sleep.

The Army horses — which belong to the Old Guard, the 3rd Infantry Regiment — are used to take soldiers to their final resting place in traditional military funerals.

Drawing inspiration from the classical portrait paintings of the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age, Dumas photographed them from 2010 to 2012, exploring the relationship between her subjects and their environment.

Commissioned by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., this exhibit, organized by Julie Saul Gallery, New York, and Silver Eye, has a look and feel as if walking through a stable of horses, depicting each horse submerged in darkness.

Dumas was born in 1977 in Vlaardingen, Netherlands. She graduated from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam in 2000 and continued her education at the Rijksakademie from 2001 to '02. Her work has been included in many group exhibits and solo shows in the Netherlands, Italy, France and the United States.

For Dumas, who splits her time between Amsterdam and New York City, animals have been one of her main subjects for several years. In 2011, she photographed search-and-rescue dogs that worked at Ground Zero, four images of which are on display in this exhibit. Since 2005, she has been taking portraits of wolves, horses, dogs and tigers. An example of the latter is also on view.

She has done this with purpose.

“The disappearance of animals in our daily lives as part of society has a tremendous impact, I believe, on how we experience life and how we process and reflect on the things that happen around us,” she says. “Once there was a broad variety of interaction with (working) animals that wasn't like the more common relations as we know now — kept as pets or used as meat.”

In her view, animals were much more needed in the past while they also offered solace and companionship.

Dumas believes the way we look at animals tells us about ourselves.

“The portraits of the horses in Arlington seen at night laying down resting, away from their laden task, become also just horses again,” she says. “Spending time watching them drift in and out of sleep felt like witnessing a most vulnerable moment, with their large legs folded underneath and their big heads tilting on the stable floor, they feel like friendly giants to me.”

In the back of the gallery, a short video shows several of the horses slowly settling into slumber. In one stall, a horse rolls back onto its side, as though pushed, as it falls into deep sleep. It's a moment of exhaustion that is completely relatable between animals and humans.

“When rolling over, their figure is no longer vertical and majestic but fragile and sometimes awkwardly looking, with their bellies sticking up,” Dumas says.

“The context in which I portray my subjects keeps changing, and although I meet new characters every time, some of which I'm more drawn to than others, their animal behavior is universal.”

Having since completed another series featuring the wild horses of Nevada, Dumas says that one of the wild horses in her most recent video “The Widest Prairies” lays down just like that horse at Arlington.

“I enjoy seeing the different series in light of each other.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kshaw@tribweb.com.

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