Yes We Cannibal’s new ecology-themed exhibit its ‘most ambitious’ yet

From tending community gardens to distributing Plan B and fentanyl test strips, to hosting concerts, pop-ups and micro-raves, the founders of Yes We Cannibal have returned from their many projects to put back on their gallerist hats with their latest exhibition, Emptiness Ecologies

The series went up in the Government Street gallery on Saturday, Dec. 17, and will display until the closing reception on Feb. 4. Yes We Cannibal founders Matt Keel and Liz Lessner call it their most ambitious to date, comprising works from six mid- and late-career artists in various visual and physical media, as well as written material from three more that will be available in pamphlets provided at the gallery. 

The gallerists say they devised the concept of the show after observing an increased use of the concept of ecology—defined as the study of relationships between organisms and their environments—in conversations about the relationship between humans and the rest of the planet. Especially as climatic catastrophes continue to proliferate and the world suffers the largely untold losses of the ongoing Sixth Great Extinction. 

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for talking about ecology, ecology, ecology,” Keel says. “And at some point, I think we had this sort of feeling (that) this needs a critical audit.”

That audit comes in the abstract in Emptiness Ecologies. Keel and Lessner say they kept it vague when soliciting work for the exhibition, eschewing firm curatorial guidelines and instead offering artists only a few thematic bullet points to explore as they saw fit through their contributions to the show. 

What came out of that was a smattering of provocative works from a diverse cast of artists. Serving as the show’s centerpiece is a mixed-media installation from famed New Orleans artist Dawn Dedeaux, with three collages from Houma Nation artist Monique Verdin rounding out the Louisiana representation. From out of state comes an experimental short film by duo Cooper Battersby and Emily Vey Duke (Syracuse); paintings by Chihiro Ito (Tokyo, by way of Brooklyn); digital data-art from Clarissa Ribeiro (Fortaleza, Brazil); and an experimental video installation from Anna Scime (Buffalo). 

Additionally, the show incorporates written material ranging from polemic essays to experimental prose-poetry from a trio of celebrated writers: John Clark, an activist, philosopher, professor and writer from New Orleans; Laura Marris, a Buffalo writer and translator; and Courtney Taylor, a writer currently based in Baton Rouge who is also a gallery curator and doctoral candidate in the LSU College of Art + Design’s Cultural Preservation Program. 

While the exhibition officially debuted last Saturday, Keel says it’ll be in January when the show really kicks off. Throughout the coming month, Yes We Cannibal will host additional programming meant to complement the works on the walls (and floor), including a speech introducing the Zen Buddhist concept of Emptiness, an experimental percussion performance, a New Orleans “witch choir,” and more, all of which can either be attended live or streamed at twitch.tv/yeswecannibal. 

Visual art, written compositions, musical performances, speeches, dialogues. “Ambitious” is indeed a fair evaluation of Cannibals’ latest venture. It falls squarely in line with their mission to make their little nook of Mid City a home to all things weird, bold and daft; to, as Keel says, “bring contemporary art to Baton Rouge when it wouldn’t have anywhere else to show.” 

Yes We Cannibal is at 1600 Government St., and is open noon-6 p.m. on Saturdays, noon-3 p.m. on Sundays and 6 9 p.m. on Thursdays. Find it on Instagram at @yeswecannibal and online at  yeswecannibal.org.