Beyond Beasts at the Contemporary Arts Center is really two shows in one. For the many fans of Benh Zeitlin's internationally acclaimed film Beasts of the Southern Wild, it is an inside look at the homespun local movie that unexpectedly received four Oscar nominations. A floor to ceiling spectacle, it includes videos showing how Beasts was made by Zeitlin's Court 13 collective, various props and some of his earlier short films. But there is also a significant visual art story here because the "look" of Beasts is mostly the work of Zeitlin's sister, Eliza, whose art will be familiar to anyone who saw New Orleans Airlift's Music Box performances of musical shanties for which she built the first and biggest musical structure. Both projects featured some of the same artists and an organic localized aesthetic that is not only a St. Claude undercurrent but also coincidentally echoes elements of Elizabeth Shannon's and Robert Tannen's early CAC exhibitions years ago.
Eliza Zeitlin's influence may have also inspired certain other aspects of the film. Some moviegoers professed shock at the way the characters in Beasts lived in shanties cobbled from found materials, yet when Benh Zeitlin was asked if he really knew "anyone who lives like that," he replied, "Yes, my sister." Like Hushpuppy in Beasts, Eliza Zeitlin prefers living in primitive spaces she shares with her menagerie of critters. That love of animals also explains her large and enigmatic stand alone sculpture, above, in the corner window gallery, a metal found object assemblage cobbled from auto parts and inspired by her beloved cat who was killed by a speeding motorist. Eloquently crafted into a fearsome feline protector deity, it looks ready to pounce on the cars whizzing by outside. In the Zeitlin sibling's worldview, all things appear animated by an intelligent inner spirit that we may not always understand but which their efforts bring to life in any number of, mostly unexpected yet brilliantly executed, ways. ~D. Eric Bookhardt
Beyond Beasts: Eliza Zeitlin and the Art of Court 13, through June 16, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805
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