Root Shock | Hannah Chalew, Daniela Rivera and Corinne Spencer 

July 15 - October 25, 2019
Exhibition extended through October 25

  • Woman pulling strings, text reads Root Shock, Hannah Chalew, Daniela Rivera, Corinne Spencer
  • Bars of soap stacked like bricks

    Daniela Rivera, Without Trace / Sin Evidencia (detail)*, 2019. Zote soap, plywood, screws, dimensions variable.

  • Art on wall: pen and ink on paper made from trash and abaca

    Hannah Chalew, Root Shock II, 2018. pen and ink on paper made from trash and abaca, 75” x 102” x 2”

The Kniznick Gallery presents Root Shock, featuring the work of Hannah Chalew, Daniela Rivera and Corinne Spencer. The exhibition is in dialogue with research taking place at the Women’s Studies Research Center examining the concept of Cascading, or a downward spiral in women’s lives caused by the convergence of economic, environmental and political forces. Through drawing, video and installation, Root Shock examines three women’s responses to intersecting global challenges. Material and location become synonymous as the artists explore the literal and emotional elements that surround them.

New Orleans-based artist Hannah Chalew gathers sugarcane byproduct and discarded plastic waste to create a durable (and permanent) drawing stratum depicting a future landscape devoid of humans. In this envisioned landscape, materials commingle to create new ecosystems from our cultural detritus. Her process in these large and sprawling works incorporates a cyclical logic that turns in on itself while exposing the exploitation of people and land. Exploring the centuries’ old practices of extractive economies in Southern Louisiana, Chalew’s work surfaces the connections between petroleum, sugarcane and the critical environmental crises that face us now.

Daniela Rivera merges specific moments in political history, the history of art and personal history to generate open-ended dialogue among the viewer, artist and subject. In Root Shock, Rivera responds specifically to human rights abuses in her native Chile during the 70s and 80s dictatorship. Through a subtle architectural intervention in the exhibition, she draws parallels between the late disclosure of these violations in the 90s and the perpetual invisibility of domestic abuse. The singularity of Rivera’s materials becomes a guise, allowing her to address complex topics through the activation of the viewer’s senses.

Corinne Spencer constructs interior psychological spaces by staging black feminine bodies in fields, empty warehouses and other ambiguous locations. Working in a visual language that includes installation, projection and performance, Spencer’s work exists in shifting states of tension between violence and desire, and the mythological and the mundane. Spencer’s stoic figures operate within this territory of contradictions, remaining grounded through elasticity and strength.


All programs will be held at the Kniznick Gallery and Liberman-Miller Lecture Hall.

Exercises for the Quiet Eye with Annie Storr

September 19, 2019

12:30–2 p.m.

WSRC Scholar, art historian and museum educator, Annie Storr leads art experiencing exercises through the Kniznick Gallery exhibition Root Shock. Storr developed Exercises for the Quiet Eye (EQE) to encourage patient reflection, appreciation, and an attempt to avoid the rush to understand, or determine a set interpretation for what we see.

Artist Lecture with Hannah Chalew / Root Shock Reception

September 25, 2019

4–7 p.m.

Artist Lecture 4 pm, Reception to follow. Brandeis alum Hannah Chalew presents a lecture on her work and what it means to live in the age of climate change.

Co-sponsored by Brandeis Fine Arts.

*Zote is a Mexican brand of soap used for hand washing laundry due to its stain removing and whitening properties. It is especially used for hand-washing delicate pieces of clothing due to its neutral and hypoallergenic qualities. It is sometimes still used for bathing as well.

This soap wall has been on the drawing board since the abuses to human rights during the military dictatorship (1973-1990) were finally disclosed in Chile in 2002. When Chile was transitioning out of the dictatorship, the new agreed upon president, Patricio Aylwin, dictated a supreme decree that created the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation. The Mission of this commission was to establish a complete and clear picture on the serious human rights violations, gather information that would allow the identification of the victims, and established their fate and location. The commission was also tasked with recommending reparation measurements and/or vindication, while also advising on legal and administrative resolutions that would prevent new abuses of power and human rights violations in the future. In 1992, the National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation was formed as a result of the investigation. I was able to read part of the Rettig Report in 2002, as I was arriving in Boston, and the idea of building a wall of soap to link abuses of power to abuses and violence occurring in the domestic space appeared in my mind. I also linked this wall of soap to the cleansing act and the erasure of traces of violence. Each bar of soap points to the victims and transgressors, but also our complicity and silence.--Daniela Rivera

Without Trace / Sin Evidencia was removed on Friday, July 19 due to sensitivities caused by the odor of the soap. The installation has endured a state of flux as Rivera has responded materially and conceptually to the work and its early removal.