Allison Maria Rodriguez
The Strength of Very Small Things

A large black circle, with luminescent blue-green microscopic organisms (daphnia, or water fleas) appear to radiate out from a central core.
The Strength of Very Small Things, (detail), video still of daphnia animation, video installation, 2020
[Image Description: A black circle with fishlike glowing blue-green shapes floating within.]

Allison Maria Rodriguez’s work arises out of an intertwined state of grief and wonder.

Her immersive, multi-modal installations are an instinctive response to the kinds of losses occurring in what we perceive as the background of our lives every day. Weaving a rich tapestry of Magical Realism, technology and emotion, Rodriguez moves the background into the foreground, enmeshing us simultaneously in its magic and the horror of the vacuum that threatens to expand as thread after thread of our context disconnects from us and dissolves.  

The Strength of Very Small Things, commissioned as a 2020 Hanukkah gift to the public by the Jewish Arts Collaborative, is forged from material gathered in 2018, while Rodriguez was an artist-in-residence at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in Manitoba Canada. 

Through the glass storefront of Boston Cyberarts Gallery, Rodriguez has given us access to one of the remotest places on earth.

There, Northern Lights play over natural landscapes and human debris with equal tenderness, while scientists brave the rugged elements to gather water fleas (daphnia), microscopic organisms whose condition serves as an indicator of the state of our planet’s rapidly changing climate.

Round, projection-mapped footage of the swimming daphnia scales them up to our size, offering a sense of fellowship that’s more difficult to sense when we abide in our usual relationship.

Prismatic beams of light glint at us from their fluttering shapes and the multichannel installation feels like a celebration of these tiny creatures, and of the knowledge they contain: the light their movement sheds on our own vulnerable state in a shared planetary ecosystem.

But also, the quiet glow and flickering of The Strength of Very Small Things feels a bit out of time and space altogether—allowing at least a temporary experience of pause.

All of the scales of the problem get suspended in momentary equilibrium, reminding us of the potency of quiet, humble, persistent, presence.

Here, as the greens and blues and purples slide across the surface of the glass, sometimes reflecting on wet pavement outside as well, a glimmer of hope becomes available that transcends even the scientific.

— Heather Kapplow

The Strength of Very Small Things, multi-media installation, installation documentation, 2020, 2:45 min. Video documentation by Sue Murad.

For a transcript of the video, click here.
Small, blue, purple, and green glowing organisms float in a suspended black circle, beams of light radiating out from the center. The camera slowly pans and the frame changes to reveal that the circle and the organisms it contains are a projection in the window of a one storey building with more windows stretching across the front, seen at night as someone stands transfixed in front of the window and other pass in front of the building, wearing masks and winter clothes. The other windows hold more organic video footage on four TV screens and another circular projection surface, this one on a wall flanked by small trees illuminated by cyan lights shooting up from the floor. The circular projection shows whales breaking through deep, wind rippled water, while the quartet of rectangular TV screens show landscapes in vivid blues and greens or muted pinks of lakes, brilliant night skies, a deserted road, and a blown out rocket shell. The camera moves between the circular projections, the first one now teaming with the small creatures. and the screens, leading the way through the narrow gap inside the building between installations and the windows before moving to a final shot of the full frontage of the building with the six moving images, two circular and four square, casting a glow on the empty sidewalk.
A grassy landscape with pine trees at its far edge is shown against a brilliant turquoise sky illuminated by the bright lights of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. In the foreground, a rusted and battered metal cylinder identified in the artist’s caption as an abandoned rocket lies on its side. There is a large, curled piece of pale rose-colored metal reaching upwards.
The Strength of Very Small Things, (detail), video still of abandoned rocket, video installation, 2020

[Image Description: A cylindrical object with on end peeling back on a grassy clearing in front of a treeline and a bright turquise sky.]
Grassy or marshy land and a small body of water are illuminated by the pink light of dusk. A small figure can be seen wading in the water, wearing a neon yellow jacket and swinging a long, net scientific sample collector behind them.
The Strength of Very Small Things, (detail), video still of scientist collecting daphnia, video installation, 2020

[Image Description: A landscape at dusk with a small figure at the edge of a pond.]

Artist Biography

Allison Maria Rodriguez is a first-generation Cuban-American interdisciplinary artist working predominantly in video installation. Her work focuses extensively on climate change, species extinction and the interconnectivity of existence. Through video, performance, digital animation, photography, drawing, collage and installation, Rodriguez creates immersive experiential spaces that challenge conventional ways of knowing and understanding the world. In addition to her art practice, she is a curator, educator and arts organizer. Rodriguez is a grand prize winner of the Creative Climate Awards sponsored by The Human Impacts Institute and she was also recently awarded an Earthwatch Communications Fellowship for a residency at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre to work on their “Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge” project. In 2019, she was honored by WBUR’s The ARTery as one of “The ARTery 25”, a celebration of 25 millennials of color impacting Boston’s arts and culture scene.

The Strength of Very Small Things was a part of "Brighter Connected", a project commissioned by the Jewish Arts Collaborative and on display at Boston Cyberarts Gallery Dec 9, 2020 - Jan 2, 2021