Whether considering en plen air Impressionist painting or the cultural tradition of landscape painting, nature and art have always been intertwined. These artistic styles and movements focused on depicting nature rather than having nature as an active participant within the works. A show at Burning in Water in NYC, titled a certain kind of Eden, focused on how nature directly engages with and physically interacts with the works on display, transcending the exclusive act of depiction and becoming a series of hybrid nature-art objects.
Named after a poem by Kay Ryan, a certain kind of Eden, is thematically inspired by the last stanza of Ryan’s poem that reads “the greenest saddest strongest kind of hope.” The curator of the exhibition Barry Malin tells to The Creators Project, that the poem “evokes the image of the lone tendril of a plant that is struggling to survive and grow.”
The exhibition comes out of an ecologically conscious standpoint, with works that hope to “reflect a fragile equipoise between creation and destruction, evoking the dynamic equilibrium underlying the biological, environmental, and climatic systems that facilitate life,” according to the press release.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a sculpture by artist Valerie Hegarty, Return to the Catskills. An amalgamation of canvas, paint, nature, and moss, the piece is nature-art hybridity, depicting a moss-covered tree (and a small woodpecker) devouring a painting. Malin says that the piece “directly attacks the idea of the landscape as something that exists outside the ravages of time and the impact of society.” It is a painting that persists in dangling, tattered pieces and a golden decaying frame, while the rest is consumed by the surrounding natural forces.
The works on display by Sam Falls question photography’s potential of representation. Rather than shooting images of nature, Falls goes back to photography’s roots and makes analog photogram imprints of natural elements, including palm trees and fern leaves. His work begs the question: what is a more accurate representation of nature; a mechanical, detached photograph of a palm tree, or the physical contact of a palm tree on a piece of photo-sensitive paper?
Retreating from idyllic trees are the works of Kasper Sonne. Fire is his natural element of choice. Borderline (New Territory) is a monochromatic painting that has been set ablaze and then eventually put out, resulting in a burnished center that reveals the other hollow side of the frame.
Two enormous photographs by Matthew Brandt depict threatened bodies of water across the United States. The point of interest of these pieces lies outside of what they portray; each print has been soaked with water samples from the sites they depict, allowing the present chemicals and elements within the lake to directly alter and interact with the image output.
Despite the entwined relationship between art and ecology in this exhibition, the curator is not aiming to be didactic about environmental issues. “Within American politics, it does not seem like the issue is really a lack of awareness. The climate science, for example, is characterized by a remarkable degree of consensus,” Malin tells to The Creators Project. Instead, this exhibition aims to respond to already ingrained environmental issues. “We consider it our mission to present contemporary art in the context of broader societal concerns,” says Malin. “As a gallery, we have a voice based on what art we show and promote, and we do so with a purpose.”
Burning in Water’s next show is Jason Alexander Byers: 50 States, 50 Birds.