Vadis Turner – Encounters

Art Papers | November 2022

By Jillian McManemin

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The night before I flew to Alabama, I went to opening night of Medea at the Metropolitan Opera. Typical characters—rich, high-powered Upper East Side couples, opera queens and their dates, and a smattering of minor celebrities (I spotted Gina Gershon)—milled about on the red-carpet and sipped champagne. It was a type of New York glitz that echoed past decades; apart from the plastic champagne flutes, it could have been in the 1970s.

I watched the myth of Medea unfold. She’s betrayed by her lover, who is marrying someone else. Banished from the citadel, the call to revenge grips her. Amid the brutality, what stood out to me was the relationship between Medea and her confidante, Neris. Their relationship spoke to the complicated dynamic that exists between those who have been cast out. Neris attempts to steer Medea from violence but ultimately fails, and at the end of the opera, Medea kills her two children. A high-camp video projection of flames swallows her and their little dead bodies.

The next morning, I was on a plane to Huntsville, AL, to view Encounters, a solo exhibition by Nashville-based sculptor and multimedia artist Vadis Turner, whom I met 10 years ago. In traveling to Alabama, I felt as if I were heading into the belly of the beast—the pinnacle of a culture that I am a part of, yet fail to fully understand, one of the dyed-red defenders of American violence, ticking back the years to a pre-Roe era. This is how the American South is generally regarded by those Americans who don’t live there—there’s often an impulse to distance, and to other.