There’s a vibrant stillness in Bay Area-based artist Kija Lucas’ solo show A taxonomy of belonging (until Dec. 17 at SF Camerawork, recently moved to the Fort Mason Center). Lucas’ masterful photographs of adornments of plants, seeds, stones, and other natural objects push the boundaries of the two-dimensional picture plane while carrying a poignantly beautiful tenor.
A large vinyl print, Bristol 36, grounds the exhibition, inviting the viewer inside with its awe-inspiring glow. Against a rich black background, a segmented tree seems to emerge, gradually, as if emerging from an opaque liquid. This alchemical presence is shared by the photographic work of the exhibition. Lucas reanimates remnants of plant matter in his still photographs through his use of intense resolution and saturated color to trace the presence of his ancestors and take stock of the value each organism provides.
A taxonomy of belonging includes a selection of photographs from Lucas’ nine-year project looking for home, in which Lucas creates a visual narrative of his family history. Wielding a digital scanner, Lucas traveled through 13 states in which his family once resided, collecting objects – plants, stones, etc. – as emblems of their emigration. Her selection process was fluid, not looking for perfect specimens, but rather open to the intrigue and allure of plants that attracted or reminded her.
Once gathered, she placed each item directly on the scanner bed. Light emitted from the bed traveled back and forth, rendering the intricate recess of a bent rod or the cracked crevices of a brick, each specimen embraced by the intensity of light and curiosity. This photographic process not only focuses the viewer’s attention on the forgotten weeds and soil, but also on his method of documenting these fragments of flora, namely the functional mechanism of the scanner, which reflects his own pilgrimage to ancient residences. from his family.
Lucas Notes Bristol 33, a pile of dark red dirt, like a turning point at the start of his project, allowing him to embrace bugs, dust and digital artifacts. For Lucas, each element of the object is equally important and speaks to the textures of the story – a constellation of interactions between organisms. Likewise, in Buxton 287, a red-brown brick embossed with “QUEENS R” hovers in the middle of the black backdrop. Its freckled surface and worn edges reveal pieces of rocks, grass and moss embedded in its shape. All these brands and the materials that accompany them testify to a common history.
Lucas draws on this visual archive to challenge the legacy of Carl Linnaeus’ racial taxonomy, still a scientific force today, asking the viewer to re-evaluate assumptions of beauty, value and identity. Through these vivid photographs, Lucas draws the viewer’s attention away from classifications and towards an appreciation of community and the impact of circumstances that continues to build their sense of self.