Monday, April 18, 2011

This is a little more like it!

Here is a review posted online by the Review in Kansas City, unfortunately they don't publish their magazine in printed form anymore.

A review of Humanature

Carin Mincemoyer, "Model Landscape #110," 3" x 9.5" x 5.5", 2008. Image: photo T. Abeln

La Esquina

Charlotte Street Foundation Urban Culture Project space
Kansas City, Missouri
March 5 — April 16, 2011
Some artists create in imitation of nature, and some speak through it. Some are in dialogue with nature, while others comment upon it. All of these approaches are explored in Humanature, to great effect. Seven artists present more than 70 individual works, often in series.
Carin Mincemoyer, "Model Landscape #102," 10" x 5" x 1", 2008. Image: photo T. Abeln
Here, the swamp lives in a plastic clamshell case. Carin Mincemoyer has set dozens of miniature environments within every type of clear plastic encasement. You know, the ones that house your Oreo cookies, your headphones, and your batteries. The ones that make you wonder if the objects inside are really such dangerous implements that protective measures must be taken. Though the show is about nature, this ecosystem exists in the most unnatural of environments.
Installation view (west wall) of "Humanature," showing Karen McCoy's "Body Roll for Cliff Under Chateau," local earth pigments found onsite, 5.5' x 6', 2000, and various "Model Landscape" works by Carin Mincemoyer. Image: photo T. Abeln
The components of the pieces, miniature sand, trees, grasses, watery-looking goo, and some powder that mimics snow and sand, are clearly false. Mincemoyer’s dioramas are about containment and utopia, from the dead-as-dead-can-be of the natural history museum to the creepiness of Biosphere 2 and all those moon colony science fiction novels. What does it mean to have nature, and how do you want to have it? It wasn’t so long ago Americans struggled to wrap their arms around the wilderness, in a gesture both affectionate and smothering.
Like some of the other pieces in the exhibit, these miniatures are also about value. What is trash? How many of those containers have you thrown away? There could have been a whole world in there. Worlds within worlds. Fraggles. Twiddle bugs. Borrowers. Whatever childhood world within worlds is closest to your heart. Aren’t there really worlds, living worlds, in our trash? Bacteria, at least. Viruses, maybe. Protons and electrons, at least. Moving, and maybe, in some sense, alive.
David Johnson’s photographs also set the natural against the man-made. Tropical plants live as refugees inside corporate windows. Tents have invaded the outdoors and set up their own space, interrupting the green. A deer skull is presented in front of a wide field of horizontal blinds. Who belongs indoors? Who belongs outdoors? A Christmas tree appears to swirl madly, lights streaking, maybe ready to take off, with two windows lingering behind it, as if they might provide an escape. The light is eerie enough to make light as a part of the artificial world, and to put the focus on the contrast of subjects.
David Johnson, "1333300842," digital c-print mounted on plexi, 16” x 20”, 2009. Image: photo T. Abeln
B.j. Vogt’s Styrofoam peanut volcano is dramatic. The top of this grown-up-sized science project spews the peanuts. Where a real volcano is dynamic, melting and building, Styrofoam transforms not at all. There’s a cycle to the synthetic version, yes. It just doesn’t go anywhere. It’s simultaneously delightful and distressing. At least someone is doing something with those peanuts! And maybe with enough volcano builders we wouldn’t have to worry about burying the earth in our durable trash. The title pushes things further: We Are Better Volcanoes than Volcanoes. Destroyers, re-builders. Again, we see the line between the discarded and the precious.
B.j. Vogt, "We are Better Volcanoes than Volcanoes," mixed media, 11' x 10' x 10', 2010. Image: used with permission of Charlotte Street Foundation
Carin Mincemoyer, detail of installation "Migratory Birds Mimicking the Structure of Polyethylene Molecules," craft store birds, steel, mixed media, dimensions variable, 2009. Image: used with permission of Charlotte Street Foundation
Mincemoyer also contributed the bird sculptures suspended in the gallery. Their formations, the title tells us, are Mimicking the Structure of Polythylene Molecules. She’s asking us to contemplate how we shape the environment, and how the environment shapes us. How plastic are we, in both sense of the word? How much are we made by what we make, and how much can we change and control without harming ourselves? As Mincemoyer notes in her artist’s statement, “Synthetic polymers may prove to be one of mankind’s most long-lasting creations.” Perhaps. Let’s hope it’s Shakespeare instead. She’s playing with the idea of building blocks, and how nature is made up of pieces. Nature has an order that we can improvise in. Once we’ve played around with it, though, is it more beautiful, or less?
Karen McCoy, "My Body As Cap Canaille," body print and drawing with red pigment found on Cap Canaille, 30" x 44" (with artist's photograph of Cap Canaille, not shown), 2000. Image: used with permission of Charlotte Street Foundation
Karen McCoy’s approach is more intimate and focuses on wholeness. She uses her body to paint, and she uses pigments found at the site she is portraying, to create representations of landscapes. Two pieces, My Thighs As Port Minou and My Body As Cap Canaille bring the shape of the human form and the shape of the land close enough to whisper back and forth.
B.j. Vogt, "A Human Geology," 12’ x 20’ x 10’, 2008. Image: used with permission of Charlotte Street Foundation
B.j. Vogt’s other work, A Human Geology, also interacts with nature on a human scale. Scale is important here, as it was in the tiny landscapes, and the volcano, a model of a monstrously large formation. A Human Geologyis full scale, and it invites the viewer to walk in. Layers like geo-strata are made of cardboard and other soft building materials. Rather than showing the incredible breadth of history, these layers show considered aesthetic choices and a process that lasted — well, presumably less than a million years. It evokes the ghostliness of a natural geologic formation, and feels carved and welcoming, as you approach and step inside it. How does time awe us? And how is it really beside the point, when you compare scales again: a year to build a work of art, a million to build a canyon? To return to the bird formations, how do the pieces of nature draw us in? How does nature’s order seduce us?
Jamie Kreher, installation view of "Real Estate Island," c-print, 24" x 34", 2005. Image: photo T. Abeln
Isolated slices of nature in parking lots are cut out and presented starkly in Jamie Kreher’s series. What does it mean that even in a parking lot, we present and nurture a little piece of nature? The angles are sweeping and snipped, once the world around is amputated. Only a few shadows are permitted to be themselves, to extend outside the focus on the island. We know, then, that these places are, or were, three dimensional. But even the shadows here contribute to the flatness. We’ve all seen them, interrupting and not doing much to soften the ugliness of all our massive parking lots, huge and black and radiating heat and the smell of tar and dead puddles. Again, nature comes in pieces. In life, these are islands, and Kreher removes the parking lot, leaving us with only the curb borders and their inhabitants. Rather than looking at how nature builds itself, in molecules or in layers of rock, Kreher is addressing how we cut nature into blocks for our own amusement.
Humanature draws humans into and out of nature. The artists show how we divide and conquer, how we imitate and commune with our environment. The work poses playful questions about how we do, can — and should — relate to our world.

Here's the link to the online review:

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