Oct 28, 2011

REVIEW | Unnaturally, An Independant Currators International Exhibtion Book

Mary-Kay Lombino's Unnaturally, 2003

A reemerging, popular trend in contemporary art of the 21st century, mans’ struggle to understand and define the natural world themes the IndependentCurators International exhibition book, Unnaturally. Independent Curators International is a New York based organization committed to spreading recent artistic developments internationally through traveling exhibitions. In her exhibition essay Mary-Kay Lombino, curator of Unnaturally, navigates the reader through the exhibition by artist, individually exploring the connection between the creator and his or her perception of the natural world. Besides the obvious commentary on Earth’s dwindling natural resources, annihilated eco-systems, and increasing endangered species, Unnaturally delves more into mans’ cultural associations with nature. Mary-Kay Lombino raises questions over the rising ambiguity between the truly natural and modern, man-made replicas of the environment.
In our society, is there an inherent superiority for artificial imitation of nature? Unnaturally also explores the possibility of nature as simply a cultural fabrication in our highly industrial world. Thanks to ever growing technology, how hazy is the boundary between Mother Nature and the man-made? How much human manipulation would transform an otherwise natural environment into unnatural?  Is there a level of purity that defines our natural world and are humans entitled to dominate or negotiation with the environment? I was particularly interested in this exhibition book because the author and curator delved deeper into mans’ psychological relationship with nature. After a short introduction and a snippet from Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, Lombino welcomes readers to explore sixteen artists and their interpretations of human involvement, artificiality, simulation, and technology in our natural world. Although a few of the chosen works are from the late twentieth century, in my review of Unnaturally I will be focusing primarily on pieces from the early 2000’s.
Lombino describes MichaelPierzynski’s miniature sculptures as “artificial mementos of nature.” In Untitled (brown) from 2001, Pierzynski replicates in exact size, shape, and texture the fruit of a certain species of mulberry tree native to the Southern United States. Two fruits, identical in every way, are conjoined in one mold and only differentiated by a slight variance in their light greenish-brown glaze. Mary-Kay Lombino describes the perfect twin-ness of the fruits as a contravention against the “idiosyncratic individuality” our society expects from nature. Pierzynski’s Cultivating Internal Plastic Infinity contends with modern man’s need to fetishize nature with a small, kitsch-like ceramic tree figurine. Similar in composition to the mulberry fruits, the artist uses two identical, almost cartoony tree trunk conjoined at the top. The leafless trees rest in a container similar to what miniature Japanese bonsai trees are grown in. Lombino comments on the major paradox in Pierzynski’s choice of container for his sculpture, explaining that Buddhist monks utilize bonsai trees in reverence to nature’s simplistic splendor while Pierzynski’s trees are unnatural, manipulated duplicates of innate beauty. 
ChrisAstley, another artist featured in the Unnaturally exhibition, constructs and photographs small sets resembling foggy swamps and shadowy, enigmatic landscapes. He fashions translucent, ice-like blocks amongst hanging branches, wreathes of ghostly fog, and soft, serene lighting. The viewer, says Lombino, is forced to question whether these eerie scenes are manufactured environments or stumbled-upon landscapes. Because the observer lacks any reference of scale or a specific place, one must decide if Astley presents a window into untouched wilds or a twisted science experiment. 
Marc Quinn, Garden, 2000, plant species in silicon

The author and curator continues to travel with the reader throughout the exhibition, which is comprised predominantly of smaller, sculptural work and a few photographic pieces. My favorite piece in the Unnaturally exhibition book is Marc Quinn’s Garden from 2000. A photographed installation in this exhibition, Quinn originally placed bright, exotic flora in giant, silicon-filled aquariums. Commenting on man’s desire to dominate and refine the natural world, the artist turns his plant subjects “into icons, just like movie or pop stars who die young.” The overly saturated colors of the flowers and their glossy, seemingly perfect appearance give the impression of extreme artificiality, even though they are true specimens of nature. Overall, I really enjoyed Mary-Kay Lombino’s written tour of the Unnaturally exhibition. I felt the content was organized perfectly so I felt as though I was traveling through the artwork with the curator in person! I appreciate the way the author added little scientific tidbits, like a Darwin quote, to add to the analytical aspect of the theme of our natural world. Although I like the fact that Mary-Kay Lombino stays relatively objective about the theme behind the work, I feel that when she does take an opinion it is definitely supportive of technology and manmade advancements in nature. I feel like these human aspects generally hinder, not nurture, the earth. It would be interesting to read about/view an exhibition that focuses purely on the negative aspects of human interference in a biosphere.

Laura Knight


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