Kindred Futures: Through Our Eyes, the exhibit at Waterfall Arts in February 2024, draws from several cultures’ stories, repressed histories, atavistic dreams, and extensive research. Showing the work of four Maine artists from underrepresented or historically marginalized perspectives, the seemingly quiet exhibit is, in reality, replete with discovery and searching that leads the viewer to contemplate past, present, and future. Regardless of background, our cultural histories precede us and inform us, wittingly or unwittingly, about who we are and how we lead our lives. The past is prelude to our futures, and our lives are often impacted by what has been left unsaid (or, perhaps worse, what has been wrongly said). This group of artists is finding ways to express that disconnect and, hopefully, help others to explore their unconscious places.

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Kindred Futures exhibit, Clifford Gallery, Waterfall Arts (photo: Eli Kao).

Looking at this exhibit, the reality of other stories became clearer to me. Listening to the artists talk about their work and their journeys challenged my own story, it made me realize the extent of the unknown in my own life.

Ashley Page and Eli Kao co-curated the show, and their work, which could not be more different in form, bracketed the intentionality of all the work. Works by Lokotah Sanborn, a Penobscot artist and community organizer, and Shane Charles, of Penobscot and also of (colonial) British ancestry, complete the show. All the works represent shared experiences, connection to the land, and the artist’s cultural history, as well as being essays on time. There is an aura of decay or apocalypse that runs throughout, simultaneous with hope and optimisma duality hard to achieve, but there it is.

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Shane Charles, Moth, Atlantic birch panels with clay and custom stainless steel brackets, 144 x 84 in., 2024 (photo: Eli Kao).

Walking into the show, one encounters Moth, Charles’s figural clay rendering on Atlantic birch panels. This piece grounds the show. The quietude is, in fact, a bit unsettling. This is a challenging piece: an unadorned clay mass on wood with steel that is made from a past action. The body print (resembling a moth in a Rorschach blot), choreographed by Charles and acted by Heather Lyon in coastal Maine “Blue” clay, is filled with layered and complex meaning and making. This piece is one of a few recent performance installation works created by Charles on the mid-coast. It is a paean to Charles’s cultural history and an homage to the rocky, wet landscape which his Penobscot family walked for generations. Moth sits firmly within the context of body, landscape, and time: a minimalist, earthy composition activated by the human body, evoking a symbol, a transformation (or even ending) in the moth form. It gives a sense of trial, with muddy footprints confirming the initial human presence. It is, literally, the central piece of the show, and also symbolically, as it gives the viewer an abstract representation of the poetry of place.

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Shane Charles, Moth, performed by Heather Lyon, Atlantic Birch panels with clay and custom stainless steel brackets, 144 x 84 in., 2024 (photo courtesy of the artist).

Charles opened the 2023 CMCA Biennial with similar work created with improvisational vocalist Luisa Muhr from New York City. His modus operandi is a deep desire to navigate the people and land, from which his works derive, but specifically as an installation-based artist.

On the wall to the left of Charles’s work are a series of seven photomontages on aluminum by Lokotah Sanborn. Dreams of Birch and Mt. Kineo begins the series of surreal images that draw from memory, history, a deep caring for the land, as well as the ruinous treatment of that land and his ancestors over time. Layered images that juxtapose scenes from a land that was not yet colonized with scenes from the present day ask the viewer to consider who gets to tell the stories of his people and the land on which they lived for centuries. Despite the wrenching questions it poses and the history it shares, the deeply evocative work itself presents a dreamlike state that is not pessimistic. Sanborn’s sense of optimism is drawn from his belief that Wabanaki have already lived through an insurmountable amount of  trauma and that through their collective power they can inspire hope and positive change. For that to happen, however, one must understand the past and how we all got here. Collectively, we must ask ourselveshow will that story proceed?

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Lokotah Sanborn, photomontages, print on aluminum, 24 x 36 in., 2024 (photo: Eli Kao).

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Lokotah Sanborn, Mary, print on aluminum, 24 x 36 in., 2024 (courtesy of the artist).

Across the gallery, Ashley Page’s Haunted Hives draws you in with her elegant layering of history and hope. The cluster of abandoned and decaying nests evoke a deep sense of home and community, posing the question: when our environment grows inhospitable, what can survive? Page finds inspiration and hope by observing animal technologies that are displayed by insects, birds, and burrowing creatures. The metaphor of migration, survival, and resiliency is layered into these delicate, yet robust, vessels, and the soft nest of hair that fills them literally also fills them with the inference of memory, identity, and story. They offer a view of past, present, and an ever-changing malleable future. As with Sanborn’s photomontages, Haunted Hives represents both the decay of abandonment and the hope that something more is coming, but both artists are telling us that while the story is not over, the optimistic future requires not only a reckoning with the past, but also a communal sharing of our future. Who gets to write the story of the past says a lot about how the future will evolve.

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Kindred Futures exhibit, Clifford Gallery, Waterfall Arts (photo: Eli Kao).

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Ashley Page, Haunted Hives, wire, abaca paper, shellac, wood stain, used braiding hair, shells, beads, dimensions vary, 2024 (photo: Eli Kao).

Inside a curtained enclosure one encounters Eli Kao’s Heritable, a video projection with related vignettes that are the most direct representation of themes of the exhibit. A visual essay on eugenics that moves into the present day, Kao begins with a 1925 quote from eugenicist (and president of the University of Maine) Clarence C. Little comparing the human condition to a soda fountain, where you just don’t mix the different flavors “at random (instead) they should be guided to blend in correct proportion. ” With a scene in a literal soda fountain opening the video, the topic is treated both seriously and with humor. His non-didactic approach makes the video approachable and powerful. As he overlays information and images, Kao transitions from the eugenicist in the soda fountain to pearly white WASPs cavorting in the landscape, tofinallypeople of color, from historically marginalized cultures, sharing time on the land. Included in the space are a series of witty, but pointed, small sculptural vignettes created with artist Morgan Cafferata that draw from moments in the video and make it hard to ignore the content.

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Eli Kao, Heritable, video projection and stereo audio, sculptural vignettes created with Morgan Cafferata, dimensions vary, 2024 (photo: Eli Kao).

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Eli Kao, Heritable, sculptural vignettes created with Morgan Cafferata, dimensions vary, 2024 (photo: Eli Kao).

At the artists’ talk, Page spoke about nostalgia in Americaasking the question “Whose (nostalgia) is it?” This exhibit begins to peel away at answers to that question. The four artists present perspectives that are both personal and communal. You cannot avoid the different perspectives on land stewardship, our shared histories, and the consequences of marginalizing classes or groups of our society. This show raises all these issues, and more, placing them squarely in the viewer’s conscious and unconscious.

While the show has come down, the artists, and their work, are still with us, engaging in important conversations and challenging us through their creativity and humanity. As sixth grader Grace wrote in the guest book, “I love that it was unsettling.”


Image at top: Ashley Page, Haunted Hives, wire, abaca paper, shellac, wood stain, used braiding hair, shells, beads, dimensions vary, 2024 (photo: Eli Kao).