New Generation, a two-sided sculpture, offers another alternative vision of power in the southern landscape, a power identified with energy latent in nature. Seen from one side, the piece presents a latticework maze of weathered branches, wire, and found materials. Through gaps in the maze, we see bright ashes of cloth. Viewed from the opposite side, the cloth background, which is composed of T-shirts in a rough quiltlike pattern, becomes a torn and ragged skin that only partially conceals the tangle of branches, roots, and other objects. This thicket of ghostly white recalls the brush-arbor meetings organized by slaves—unsanctioned, often forbid den religious gatherings in the wild. The vivid colors flickering through the white thicket call to mind the birds in Freedom Cloth, both sheltered and hopelessly entangled in the forest that surrounds them.
The thicket in New Generation also evokes deep associations with the tradition of root sculptures fashioned by African American artists throughout the South, a tradition frequently referenced and recontextualized in Dial’s art. Assembled from found and recycled materials and often elaborated with paint, root sculptures resist easy interpretations in the way that the tangle of wood and metal in New Generation frustrates our gaze into its depths and screens the objects it shelters. The white color of Dial’s roots and branches conjures a feeling of bleached and tangled bones, or a streambed seen through moving water, a possible reference to the ancestral legacies from which Dial’s “new generation” will emerge. The predominant materials—fabric scraps, steel and wire armature, and found roots—evoke three genres of southern black creativity—quiltmaking, metalworking, and root sculpting—that Dial considers the basis for his artistic practice. The work urges further questions and speculations: Does Dial see himself as the next generation of a black tradition that birthed root sculpture and the quilt aesthetic? Do the found roots and cloth scraps contain a generative force of their own? Is the generative power within nature or within humanity itself? —Bernard L. Herman