Elegy for Nature
The Institute Library
847 Chapel St., New Haven, (203) 562-5045
Out of Nature: An Exhibition of Alternatives
Through Jan. 14, 2012, 2011.
Who could blame nature for fighting back? The human species has been delivering blow after blow against the natural world for centuries.
Out of Nature, an art show in the wonderful little Institute Library space, isn't really about Mother Nature going on the offensive. Still, Michael Oatman's deadpan collage "Study for the Birds I" depicts a platoon of our feathered brethren and sistren packing some heavy heat. This collection of prints, collages, paintings and sculptures with (mostly) representational and figurative depictions of natural subjects does bring to mind our alienation from nature and the blowbacks that increasingly portends.
Curated by Stephen Vincent Kobasa, Out of Nature offers a menagerie both playful and prosaic. On the prosaic end of the spectrum we find Amy Arledge's (Web) taut, naturalistic copper plate etchings—a crow, horseshoe crabs and the grim "Honey Bees: Colony Collapse Disorder."
Over at the whimsical pole are the wall sculptures of Kim Mikenis (Web)—colorful animal characters like something out of children's literature. The goat-like "Marbles Dunleavy," crafted out of paper and colored with acrylic paint, has its big yap open as though it's haranguing its fellow barnyard inhabitants. Occupying pride of place on the floor is Laura Marsh's large Frankensteinian soft sculpture with hard internal armature. "Squawk" is an imposing hybrid turkey and peacock.
While all the works in the show evidence the technical skills of the respective artists, Joseph Smolinski's "Narwhal" (image courtesy of the artist and Mixed Greens, New York) particularly moved me. Smolinski regularly juxtaposes nature to its technological simulacra—trees and cell phone towers being his most common motif. This trope is manifest in "Narwhal," a simple composition of the unicorn-like marine mammal breaking the surface of the arctic seas. In the misty distance we can see what might be an offshore oil platform. Beneath the waters a plant akin to a palm tree hides cell transmitters amid its fronds.
If "Narwhal" were just a graphite drawing—a favored medium of Smolinski's—it would still be evocative. But his color work is so strong that the image rises to another level. One senses both the arctic chill and the ebbing of the arctic chill in the wake of climate change. Climate change's victim—the narwhal—is foregrounded, its proximate cause—the oil rig—is there in the background.
It is elegiac, suffused with loss.