In his ghostly installation, “Ode to a Void,” artist Ron Baron has channeled a literally granular level of grief. Particles of pearlite, salt, sand and broken glass are sprinkled on the gallery floor in the pattern of a room-sized spiral resembling a cosmic corona. Placed seemingly at random on this winding road to nowhere — or at least nowhere on earth — are some 60 pairs of shoes, ranging from baby’s shoes to adult cowboy boots. They have been slip-cast in ceramic, and whatever their past life was, they are now frozen in time.
The use of empty shoes as mourners’ symbols is neither new nor new to Baron. In honor of the Holocaust, 60 pairs of rusted cast-iron shoes, “Shoes on the Danube Promenade,” line the bank of the river in Budapest, Hungary, as a permanent memorial. Holocaust victims’ shoes have long been on display at Israel’s Yad Vashem. In March of this year, protesters left 7,000 pairs of shoes outside the Capitol building in Washington to commemorate child victims of gun violence in the United States.
Baron’s spectral spiral has its own painful twist. His recent show at Smack Mellon also used empty white ceramic shoes to great effect. In that show, Beyond/Beyond, the collection of shoes, then as now, anonymous, represented the footwear of a range of people, from businessmen to housewives, and conjured up a powerful aura of grief. Where are those who wore them? Where were they going? Where did they go? Did they leave footprints in the sands of time?
That mournful mystery is vastly magnified in the artist’s current installation, which is permeated with a sense of profound personal loss. Although the shoes were gotten at thrift shops, their anonymity has been, to a certain extent, removed. These pairs of shoes specifically emulate the shoes of members of a family, one of whom has tragically died.
The sudden loss of a loved one, death at its most intimate, has an enormity that is almost impossible to apprehend or comprehend. How can someone be here one moment, and not here the next, and how can that information ever be inculcated? The first response to such a death is disbelief, incomprehension and shock. Baron’s work is a numinous meditation on the survivors’ effort to assimilate the unthinkable. . .
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