UCF art gallery exhibition ‘Covering Carbon’ explores the mysteries of coal, oil and plastic

Kathleen Thum takes an unsettling look at the fossil fuel industry

"Offshore 2" by Kathleen Thum
"Offshore 2" by Kathleen Thum image courtesy of the artist and UCF Art Gallery

This season, University of Central Florida's art gallery squeezed the pump handle before anyone else did. Kathleen Thum's Covering Carbon opened in August, and it's a fitting solo exhibit now, what with gas prices and an uneasy self-awareness rising together.

Thum has plumbed the depths of fossil fuel production for some time, and this mature work combines her black-and-white drawings with large, colorful papercuts, using titles like "Petroscape," "Blowdown Stack" and "Offshore 2" to make clear what these are about.

They're about coal and oil — specifically, how we suck them from the planet for our pleasure, like so much bubble tea from a plastic cup.

click to enlarge "Blowdown Stack" by Kathleen Thum - image courtesy of the artist and UCF Art Gallery
image courtesy of the artist and UCF Art Gallery
"Blowdown Stack" by Kathleen Thum

Her stark, black-and-white "Carbon Series" drawings pull the viewer into irregular, fractured edges of large black shapes, which stubbornly stand out against subtle ink washes. This is coal, she seems to be saying. This is you.

The UCF gallery exhibition features her huge, multi-hued paper cutouts, and some smaller ones too. "Petroscape" is an epic, pin-supported installation glowing with fiery reflections against the gallery's white walls. Lyrically looping yellow and black lines occupy the fascinating space between rational grid-like geometry and organic, free-form shapes. They converge from two vanishing points into a central crescendo of writhing knots with irresistible movement and mass.

The work implies immensity without grandeur, intimacy without affection, and yet has a strange beauty all its own.

Near the back of the gallery two pieces are, in some ways, the most interesting and disturbing of the show. "Residuum" and "Causation" continue the motifs of "Petroscape" using graphite on mylar (ahem, both hydrocarbon products).

click to enlarge "Causation" by Kathleen Thum - image courtesy of the artist and UCF Art Gallery
image courtesy of the artist and UCF Art Gallery
"Causation" by Kathleen Thum

From afar these soft, tall images suggest extra-large structures. Moving closer in, however, they morph into organic, almost biological, living tissue helplessly entangled in crazed capillaries. They get under your skin with highly discomforting implications.

Thum brings the physical mysteries of what Wall Street fondly calls "the fossil fuel industry" into concrete reality.

She'll be in the gallery in person on the show's closing day at 6 p.m. to give an artist's talk. If you've recently considered your own love-hate relationship with gasoline, coal, plastic and just about everything manufactured nowadays, this exhibit gives you a lot of questions to ask.

Location Details

UCF Art Gallery

12400 Aquarius Agora Drive, Orlando UCF


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