Nurturing Nature: Artists Engage the Environment

Nurturing Nature opened on February 10th, 2011 and runs through April 16th at OSilas Gallery on the campus of Concordia College in Bronxville NY.

Artists in the exhibition include: Eva Bakkeslett, Norway; Vaughn Bell, Seattle; Susan Benarcik, NYC; Michele Brody, NYC; Jackie Brookner NYC; Linda Bryne NYC; Xavier Cortada, Miami FL; Sonja Hinrichsen, Germany; Basia Irland, CO; William Meyer, Westchester, NY; Maria Michails, NYC; Roy Staab WI; Joel Tauber, CA.

Curated by Amy Lipton, ecoartspace and Patricia Miranda, Director OSilas Gallery

Concordia opened 130 years ago as a small Lutheran College. SInce then it has grown from a pre-seminary religious training school to a liberal arts college welcoming students of all faiths. OSilas Gallery Director Patricia Miranda invited me to curate an exhibition on art and the environment. In keeping with the college's history, we decided the show would include a focus on various spiritual or ethical traditions in relationship to our care of the planet, what Christianity terms Stewardship, Tikkun Olam or repair the world in Judaism and Compassion for all living beings in Buddhism. Images and knowledge of nature can all be found in all ancient spiritual traditions, as well as Biblical and medieval mystical texts and
pagan rituals which involve sun and moon cycles, star formations, tides, seasons, animals, gardens and plants. The artists in this exhibition are working with transformative approaches and processes towards a new vision that is ecological, and participates with the living cycles of nature.

The works cover a range of sensibilities and formal styles and address various issues including solar energy, suburban sprawl, species decline, food, agriculture, recycling, water purification and plants for restoration. What all these artists have in common a desire to to bridge the gap between art and life by raising an appreciation of the natural world and by working in a collaborative process with nature. Many of the artists work in an interdisciplinary basis with scientists, botanists and biologists and also participate in community based educational projects where they engage with the public.

Linda Byrne's sculptural installation titled Ghost Net resembles a giant fishing net. Her material (the ubiquitous and life-threatening to marine life), 6-pack plastic ring, tells a tale of our vanishing natural world. She cut and tied the uniform, machine-made rings into strands and, with repetitive action, wove them into a linear shape. Subject, concept, and material coalesce to examine the uneasy relationship that exists between nature and synthetics. Also included are 6 of Byrne's large scale drawings based on the forms of fishing nets. The series are devoid of color to express the lifeless nets left behind by our ailing fisheries and polluted coastal waters.

Susan Benarcik takes elemental forms of the natural and man made world into her studio and carefully transforms them by stacking, stringing, layering, knotting, and weaving them into dimensional sculpture for public and private spaces. Simple materials become contemplative compositions as they evidence a fondness and respect for the natural world and bring equilibrium to our senses by allowing the nature to become part of our daily cognitive experience. Her work for Nurturing Nature is titled Why Our Hangers made from wire clothes hangers, and string. These materials dictated the final form, which resemble chrysalis, wombs, or droplets, forms that are unique to essential natural processes.

The essence of Michele Brody's work is to understand how we live with change and the constant flux of our environment. She invites the viewer to a more openness of sensation through the production of ephemeral installations and living sculptures. Her work titled Grass Skirt Sentinels, use materials including copper pipe, fabric, light, grass seed and water, and are sustainable sculptures that support the growth of plants. During the course of the exhibition the works will transform as they go through a full life life cycle with the use of unique lighting

and a water irrigation system.

Alchemy - The Poetics of Bread by Eva Bakeslett is a beautifully executed and lyrical film about an activity once ubiquitous in almost every household. Eva is the both the maker and the baker of Alchemy and was brought up in Arctic Norway where baking bread is still common in many homes. Her rhythmical movements and confident touch is rooted to generations of woman baking their bread. The timeless beauty of the process brings baking into the realm of poetry and the art that goes beyond the walls of the gallery and onto our kitchen tables.

Roy Staab is a nomadic artist who has been traveling around the world to make art installations in nature for the past thirty years. His earth-sensitive site-specific works use locally available materials and result in ephemeral earthworks that eventually devolve back into nature. The works can last for days or weeks depending on weather conditions and forces of nature. Since 1979 he has been documenting these works with his own camera immediately upon finishing them. Included in Nuturing Nature are two of Staab's large scale photographs. Baleen was made in the Northwest Harbor in Gardiner's Bay (Eastern L.I.) off the Atlantic. Big Round pictured here was created in Denmark in summer of 2008 for a group exhibition on Marbaek Beach near Esbjerg. Staab spends the first few days at the site, studying the landscape and watching the changes of light over the course of the day. When the tide came in he walked along the beach and found a sand-dollar fossil. With that in mind the next morning he walked up the river estuary and found a small bay off the shore in an open area. Using the sand dollar design as inspiration he made the five rays of the fossil and then started to walk around and around in a pattern of his foot steps using his eye for measurement.

Taking the form of a running rickshaw, William Meyers' Green Rickshaw Project highlights what individuals, businesses and municipalities are doing towards creating sustainability in Westchester County NY. The Green Rickshaw builds a community of its own as it conceptually and physically navigates between actions being taken by organic farmers, locally made products, municipal sustainability initiatives, and home energy audits. Components of the Green Rickshaw include a rickshaw chassis fabricated from recycled bicycle parts, a steel kiosk, reclaimed oak ‘pulls’, zero formaldehyde birch plywood, bamboo flooring, flexible solar panels, a green roof module, a traveling library, and a cell phone recharge station.

Nurturing Nature includes 180 pencil drawings by Xavier Cortada for the first time presented in their entirety Endangered World: LifeWall. In 2009, Cortada created drawings of the 180 Endangered World animals struggling to survive on our planet's eastern hemisphere and, as a performative work, assumed the identity of the animal by uploading those images online as self-portraits on his facebook profile photo.

A second installation by Cortada titled Reclamation Project includes 180 Atlantic Cedar saplings in clear, water-filled cups arranged in a grid on the gallery windows and mirroring the 180 drawings in the Endangered World Project. The saplings are up for adoption, visitors can sign up to take home an Atlantic White Cedar tree for their yard or neighborhood at the end of the exhibition.

Maria Michails' The Handcar Projects are a series of works revolving around issues of industrial agriculture, topsoil erosion and biofuel. The handcar reflects on the history of the train and its impact on economic and urban growth and explores the artist's interest in energy generating mechanisms in the form of a mode of transportation. On the wall behind the Handcar are a series of small plexiglass houses covered in photographic images of corn. Titled, Off the Grid they reflect the competing economic factors on land use exerted by population growth and urban expansion. The small houses in Off the Grid question the ubiquitous use of this raw material and raise the question of whether we use precious land to feed ourselves, house ourselves or fuel ourselves?

Sonja Hinrichsen has 3 video works/ perfomances of ephemeral works created in nature. In Sun/Moon an environmental installation/performance piece from Wyoming, 2008 the artist chose an open plain to perform a ritual, positioning rocks, one by one, to draw an ancient symbol that has been used by indigenous cultures throughout the world, to represent the sun – as well as the moon. The rocks were coated with a phosphorescent material and glowed for several hours after sunset.

For Paradise Tree, an environmental intervention in Spain, (Sept. 2008), Hinrinchsen tried to find words reflecting what she saw, heard, smelled and experienced and then embroidered these words onto the leaves of a fruit- bearing fig tree.The slow, meditative act of embroidering became a performance, commemorating myths of Moorish times telling of beautiful young women who, while being kept at home, were dreaming of passion and adventure.

Vaughn Bell's sculptures Personal Biospheres explore the miniaturization of landscape, the separation of one piece of “land” from the whole, and the relationship of care and control that this embodies. A tiny mountain or a small piece of land is suddenly within the scale of the human body, implying a different relationship than the one of awe, alienation or domination that is present in many encounters with our surroundings.

Jackie Brookner has been making sculptural tongues out of soil called Biosculptures™ since 1992. These works are vegetated water filtration systems that create destinations, restore urban habitat, and reclaim the undervalued resources of stormwater and other polluted water. Early versions of these evolved into soil chairs, where earth can embrace the whole body. “The tongue is a provocative image because it is a part of our selves where our physical and mental functions come together--a place where taste, sex and speech meet--where the dualism of mind and body clearly breaks down”.

Basia Irland's A Gathering of Waters: Boulder Creek, Continental Divide to Confluence was created for Weather Report: Art and Climate Change, curated by Lucy Lippard for the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007. The Backpack/Repository, suspended from beaver-cut aspen, is constructed from recycled truck inner tubes. Objects from the four-month long project contained within the Backpack/Repository include the Logbook, Canteen, video documentary, forty-seven water samples (one for each mile of the creek), watershed maps, and two images of Arapaho Glacier. The Glacier provides most of Boulder’s drinking water, so when it has melted away, where will the residents of this Colorado community obtain their water? This question prompted the artist to create a 250-pound, hand-carved ice book embedded with native riparian seeds – Columbine, Blue Spruce, and Mountain Maple. This ‘ecological text’ is released asthe ice melts in the current. Irland worked with stream ecologists, river restoration biologists, and botanists to determine the best seeds. When the seeds regenerate and begin to grow along the river, they help with restoration efforts by building the soil, holding banks in place, and stopping erosion.

A beautiful and forlorn tree, stuck in the middle of a giant parking lot. Ignored and neglected. Hit by cars, and starved for water and oxygen. Joel Tauber, a young and amorous man, is drawn to the tree. Outraged by the indignities that the tree is forced to endure, he devotes himself to improving the tree’s life – watering it with giant water bags, installing tree guards to protect it from cars, building giant earrings to celebrate its beauty, lobbying to remove the asphalt beneath its canopy and to protect it with a ring of boulders, and helping the tree reproduce. Sick-Amour functions as a microcosm of the plight of urban trees and of forgotten individuals in general. Sick-Amour culminated as 3 distinct artistic entities: a 12-channel video tree sculpture, a public art project comprised of approximately 150 “tree baby” plantings throughout California, and a 33-minute hybrid love story / documentary film.

Images top to bottom: Installation view with Grass Skirt Sentinels by Michele Brody; Why Our Hangers by Susan Benarcik; Grass Skirt Sentinel by Michele Brody; Big Round by Roy Staab; Green Rickshaw by William Meyers; Endangered World by Xavier Cortada; The Hand Car Project and Off the Grid by Maria Michaels; still from Paradise Tree by Sonja Hinrichsen; Biosphere by Vaughn Bell; and A Gathering of the Waters: Boulder Creek by Basia Irland. For more images go to my Flickr page or further info please see the website for OSilas Gallery.