In “Light from Water: Heidi Howard & Esteban Cabeza de Baca, with Liz Phillip,” the three artists come together with several works that exemplify their individual practices while highlighting the spirit of collaboration that guides these artists’ practices. The exhibition asks us to reimagine our relationship to nature—to see ourselves as part of, rather than separate from, the living and non-living elements in the world’s collective ecosystem.
Before entering Wave Hill’s Glyndor Gallery, visitors are greeted by a monumental figure nestled among the trees in a clearing outside the building: Host, a sculpture by Esteban Cabeza de Baca and Heidi Howard. It is cast bronze, yet has an earthen quality, and one can imagine it sprang forth from the ground. Working with Wave Hill Director of Horticulture Cathy Deutsch and gardener Christopher Bivens, the artists filled cavernous voids in the sculpture with plants native to the region. An important aspect of this work is to acknowledge indigenous histories of this area. Cabeza de Baca, who’s of Native American and Mexican ancestry, conflates scenic paintings with abstract mark-making, portraying the land itself as kin or ancestor, influenced by Indigenous views and cultural ways of knowing.
The show feels centered on the lush horticulture of Wave Hill, especially its Aquatic Garden, where the artists spent substantial time making observational studies beginning in 2022. An ecological sensitivity permeates the exhibition, manifesting through the use of naturally sourced pigments from indigo plants, which produce deep blues, and cochineal insects, which produce bright reds. “Everything in life is a collaboration, whether we acknowledge it or not, and the same is true with plants, animals and minerals. Heidi and I have our own approaches to art making but have overlapping concerns for the environment,” says Cabeza de Baca. “We hope viewers nurture their curiosity around truthful retelling of history as well as caretaking of the land.”
Cabeza de Baca’s collaborator Heidi Howard is known for poetic installations and portraits that tend to dispense with binaries like figure and ground, interior and exterior, and seem rather to harness the shared exchanges and insights that took place in the process of working and interacting with live sitters. Howard’s interventions breathe life into parts of the building’s architecture that go beyond the exhibition walls.
As the title of the exhibition suggests, water plays a pivotal role here. This manifests perhaps most literally, and to mesmerizing effect, in Liz Phillips’ (Howard’s mother) Wave Hill Wavetable. Since 1988, she has created a series of interactive sculptures where live visual responses to sound or motion appear on water. This resonant installation receives low-frequency sine waves and local field recordings. Nodal patterns mix on the water’s surface. Like the Aquatic Garden’s pool, the Wavetable reflects the surrounding environment; the rippling surface of the water heightens the experience of the space and the people and objects reflected in it.
Join the artists and Wave Hill’s chief curator, Gabriel de Guzman, for a Fall Arts Opening Day on Sunday, Sept. 17, from 1- 4 p.m. The event is free with admission to the grounds.
Wave Hill is a pastoral work of art in its own right, with elevated sweeping views of the Hudson River, and ample opportunities for learning, art making, and contemplation of the natural world. See a full list of special events and workshops here.