Last week I visited the Weatherspoon with my Digital Darkroom class, taught by Maia Dery. It wasn’t meant to be a digital-photography themed experience, just a much needed break from hours spent staring at Photoshop templates on a computer screen, as well as a chance to be inspired by work similar, different, and incomparable to our own.
Once we had all arrived in our carpool groups and gathered in the lobby, Maia told us to explore the galleries and find work that speaks to us as artists. I spent most of my time browsing a fantastic exhibit titled “Reclaiming Nature: Art and Sustainability”. I was immediately drawn in after reading, Curator of Collections, Elaine D. Gustafson’s statement on the gallery wall:
“The word ‘sustainability’ refers to how biological systems endure over time by remaining diverse and productive. One of the largest impacts on ecosystems is the destruction of natural resources—be they atmospheric (air pollution/global warming), water related (waste water/conservation), or land specific (carbon footprint/deforestation). This exhibition illustrates several of these concerns through images that address industrialization, deforestation, and vandalism, as well as nature’s diversity, fragility and ephemeral beauty.”
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I’d say my favorite piece in the collection is a photograph titled “Taking Tiger Mountain, North Kivu, Eastern Congo”, by Richard Mosse. This image initially stood out to me because of its vivid pink and purple hues, but discovering the story behind the piece made it so much more intriguing. It appears to be just a beautiful depiction of a rolling landscape, until you read the description and find out the image was shot using military infrared surveillance film, representing the violent social and political dynamics of the Eastern Congo. The visual beauty and the sobering message of the piece are one solitary element. There can’t be one without the other, and I find the intentional disharmony of that relationship fascinating.
A couple of other pieces that really stood out to me include:
“Cement Fargo”, by Dimitra Lazaridou, who writes in her artist statement that the image
“projects a haunting, emotional subjectivity onto the natural and man-made objects.” This piece is bold and thought provoking, leaving me mourning what the cement has replaced, with imagery that is somber, yet violent in understanding. Also, the pitch black sky is so haunting and provides me with nowhere to look but the conflicting man-made and natural objects. I have no distraction from their battling relationship.
Henry Schnakenberg’s “Edgewater, New Jersey”, struck me as a very unique landscape painting that provides commentary on both the natural environment and humanity. He writes in his artist statement that the depiction illustrates the “dehumanizing effects of technology, warning that it would replace workers, create pollution, and dominate the landscape in a destructive manner.” The brown warehouse buildings flooding into the contrasting green hills, as well as the smoke billowing into the air, perfectly depicts the overpowering effect industry has on the environment and society.
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This exhibit is so relevant to the current state of our world, and I think it’s very inspiring that a group of artists are combating the destructive path our society is carving by utilizing the arts. A photograph or a painting hanging silently on a gallery wall may seem like it would do little or no good in the large-scope agenda of environmentalists, but that work of art is not silent at all. It speaks to, and educates me in a way that can only be communicated visually.
“Reclaiming Nature: Art and Sustainability” will be on display until April 17th.