Takagi Masakatsu (Japanese, born 1979) and Saeko Takagi (Japanese, born 1980)
Still from Color of Empty Sky, 2005, Digital animation, Duration 5:04 minutes
Courtesy of the artists and ATM Gallery, New York City
The exploration of nature through allegory in art may be a centuries-old concept, but it has been approached with renewed interest by artists who have recaptured the romantic impulse in art. References to nature are prevalent in the recent influx of Goth-inspired imagery, decorative work with origins in graphic design trends and work that indulges in Baroque excess. Fresh: Contemporary Takes on Nature & Allegory, the first exhibition of the Context series at Tacoma's Museum of Glass, surveys fifteen artists who address nature and allegory in a thoroughly contemporary manner.
The artists in Fresh employ allegory in a distinctly postmodern way. Drawing from Craig Owen's essay on The Allegorical Impulse, curator Juli Cho Bailer identifies appropriation, impermanence, accumulation and hybridization among these strategies. For the artists in Fresh, the use of allegory implies much more than a means of creating symbolism. Allegory becomes a multi-layered way of describing contemporary life, in which everyday experience is oftentimes mediated through technology and nature is tempered by human intervention. At the same time, many of these artists use allegory to explore the personal through more universal thematics.
Gordon Cheung's painting, Rented Reality, portrays a somewhat adolescent vision for a dystopian future. Rows of numbers collaged from the pages of the Financial Times serve as a backdrop for high rise buildings that emerge from the desert landscape. The entire scene wavers queasily, as if caught between nature and civilization, rationality and the druggy irrationality implied by the hallucinogenic colors of the sky. Though global market forces are rendered as an abstracted flow of numerical data, they hold as much reality-altering potential as substances.
Takagi Masakatsu and Saeko Takagi present a much cheerier, though no less psychedelic, vision of nature in their short animation of hand-drawn cells, Color of Empty Sky. The imagery is personal and fantastical, showing an ever-morphing, dream-like landscape saturated with intense color, populated by cute animals and accompanied by a sugary soundtrack featuring Japanese pop star UA. In contrast, Marc Swanson's black-clad diorama of deer in a charred forest denies us this lushness, but, like Masakatsu and Takagi's video, hints at the cyclical process of renewal.
Joyce Korotkin's work implies distrust of the disconnect between mediated and real experience. As part of a series of monochrome paintings depicting nondescript views of urban parks, her painting possesses a disarming neutrality that defies the more sinister title that accompanies it. Through its suggestive title, Incidents & Allegations I transforms an idyllic—though presumably man-made—landscape into a potential crime scene.
Daniel Arsham (American, born 1980) Building Cavity (Wall Erosion), 2006
EPS foam, joint compound, and plaster, 96 x 48 x 24 each, two-part wall
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris, France
The tension between the natural world and the constructed environment is repeatedly alluded to throughout the exhibition. Daniel Arsham's Building Cavity at once inserts a new architectural feature within the gallery space while its eroded surfaces imply the process of decay. His small grayscale painting—illustrated in a dry, factual manner—shows a freestanding staircase tower in a grove of snow-covered trees. Though its surfaces are pristine, this architectural fragment appears as a modern-day (or futuristic) equivalent of ruins, a Modern promise of utopian living unfulfilled. The photographs of Lori Nix explore the notion of ruins in a less ambiguous way. Nix's constructed scenes are reminiscent of late-19th-century tableaux vivants or work of contemporary photographers like Jeff Wall, although Nix's environments are shown devoid of people in what appears to be the aftermath of disaster. In Art Museum, vines overtake pedestals and comically oversized bees build hives on the marble walls of a formerly grand exhibition hall.
Berlinde de Bruyckere (Belgian, born 1964), Aanéén, 2003–04
Horse skin, horsehair, epoxy, and wood, 63 x 118 x 70 3/4
Collection of Giulio di Gropello, Rome, Italy
Photo by Ela Bialkowska, courtesy of Galleria Continua, San Gimignano-Beijing
Both Berlinde de Bruyckere and Angelino Filomeno reference the passing of time through explicit reference to death. In Bruyckere's K36 (The Black Horse), a hulking mass resembling the corpses of two intertwined horses are perched atop a set of weathered construction horses. The form is utterly grotesque, pieces of hair and hide crudely sewn together to resemble a dead horse, although the sculptures are in fact carefully constructed by the artist from metal, wood, polystyrene, horsehair and hides.
Angelo Filomeno's two taxidermied peacocks do not elicit the same kind of visceral response. Instead, they are embedded within a formalized configuration that attests to Filomeno's predilection for Baroque indulgence. Spewing chains of red crystals, death becomes symbolized through ornamentation. In Shitting Baroque (Death Moth), one of Filomeno's lavish hand-embroidered works, the wings of a black moth morph into grimacing skulls, the opulence of the material construction contrasting with the morbid iconography.
Whereas Bruyckere and Filomeno rely on a certain gravity to carry the conceptual content of their work, Hanna Liden eagerly embraces the pop-culture origins of her photographs. Situated squarely within the output of young artists like Olaf Breuning, Naomi Fisher and Banks Violette, Liden's work is beautifully executed but utterly shallow. These photos—in which costumed and masked characters engage in ambiguous ritualistic behavior—seem to be concerned with little more than acting out neo-tribalist and Goth-culture-inspired fantasies. Here, nature is used as a set and allegory as a way to literally mask meaning.
Hanna Liden (Swedish, born 1976) Black Flag Burner, 2005
Chromogenic color print, Artist Proof (Edition of 3), 30 x 40 x 2 1/2
Courtesy of the artist and Rivington Arms, New York City
Fresh: Contemporary Takes on Nature & Allegory • Through December 31
Museum of Glass • 1801 Dock Street Tacoma, WA