It’s no secret that climate change and pollution are wrecking the planet. Many artists at the Bushwick Open Studios were internalizing the doom and visualizing the gloom.
Historically, most environmental art has been celebratory (look at this beautiful pristine vista) or activist (absorb this message and take action). What’s different now is how artists are gravitating towards imagery of pessimism, and the iconography of duplicity and lies. Who are we kidding? Things are really getting bad.
Mary Ivy Martin summed it all up in this pithy image of a dead christmas tree on a woman’s back, “Tree Stand” (2014) in her studio at 114 Forrest Street. Haven’t all of us done enough to earn a dead tree of our own? The woman looks stuck, even trapped.
Mary Ivy Martin explained to Hyperallergic, “There’s so much about relationships packed in here.” Unpacking her work reveals several layers of dysfunction between human beings and the planet.
Another video by Martin, “Face Faucet” (2014) depicts sweating before plants. Begging the question: Shouldn’t you also break a cold sweat when you ponder all the damage your actions have wrought to planet, and ultimately back to yourself?
Michael Greathouse at Loom Studios at 1087 Flushing Avenue created an apocalyptic black and white photograph of fragility — brambly tree branches ensnarl a balloon. Is the balloon a piece of pollution that’s gotten caught in the woods? Are the brambles about to cause it to burst? Greathouse explained to Hyperallergic, “It’s over. I hate to say that. But it’s true. That might sound kind of cynical. But I believe it.”
The kicker is that Greathouse created this image using computer animation. There’s an eerie perfection to the lighting and the brambles. But the printing technique makes it look like a large scale black and white photograph. This stylistic eeriness reinforces the pessimistic content of this nature series and the hand of man in its inevitability.
Eric Lindveit also employs the fake, the illusionary duplicate, and the simulacra, to explore our fake and dysfunctional relationship with nature at 56 Bogart. Using just pieces of watercolor paper and clay, he creates these convincing illusionistic sculptures of tree trunks with the occasional mushroom or truffle growing on it.
Lindveit explained to Hyperallergic that “if you make something believable, it becomes something real, no matter how improbable.” His works are a case study in wishful thinking and visual gullibility, which become metaphors for the lies and half-truths we crave to believe when confronting the inconvenient truths of the current crisis.
The theme of fake trees continued with a large scale sculpture of pineapples on a wooden structure by Jesse Bercowetz. It was placed on Rock Street as part of the Real on Rock Street large scale sculpture exhibition curated by Deborah Brown and Lesley Heller. It was hard to tell if it was meant to be a minimalist evocation of a tree, or more violently, if the pineapples were being publicly impaled on the wooden planks. Is it an analogy for how nature is publicly assailed every day before an often nonchalant intelligentsia or cultural consumer?
It doesn’t feel like Bushwick Open Studios until I get into my first debate with an artist over something as tricky as a photograph’s meaning. Charles Lavoie’s studio at 35 Meadow featured this entrancing series of photographs from Prospect Park with deep shadows, which the artist and I read differently — our friendly disagreement rested on the shadow’s meaning.
When asked about the environmental crisis, Lavoie explained to Hyperallergic, “I don’t want to be cynical.” For him, these works were about celebrating a moment of respite in nature’s beauty in Prospect Park. For me, the long tradition of ominous shadows in art was coloring my reading of the work. Is it a metaphor for how human society casts a shadow on nature’s future?
An obscured view or unclear view of the forest was also a metaphor in Katharine Hooper‘s videos that were screening in the side room at Catland Books. By dissolving nature into indefinable abstraction, it struck as an analogy for how unclearly we see the environment’s role.
Judging by what I saw during the 2014 Bushwick Open Studios, it revealed to me how there is something irresistible about images where nature appears wrecked, under siege, obscured, or disfigured. Just as it is hard not to look at the car wreck on the side of the street, gloom is a arresting visual hook.
Many of the works I encountered in Bushwick are asking the viewer to become like this boy in Amanda Kirkpatrick‘s recent untitled 2014 photograph at 56 Bogart, who is transfixed by a parking lot and a dumpster encroaching on a beach. Kirpatrick remarked to me how her cousin was “totally enamored with the window. Just how kids get glued to the TV.” By giving viewers an uncanny sight that glues the eyes, artists are finding a way to break through the denial.
The 2014 Bushwick Open Studios took place Friday, May 30–Sunday, June 1. Hyperallergic was a proud media sponsor of the event.