Nature as Measure
Nature as Measure considers artists who layer natural forms with systems and structures. Although the use of grids, parameters, and processes in making their work references a rational and ordered architecture, Nature as Measure challenges the hubris and folly of human design, while also exploring the political and social ideologies embedded in everyday representations of nature. Here, systems are appropriations, or illusions, that in fact question the idea of rational beauty and the superiority of ordered systems, artistic or otherwise. The exhibition could similarly be titled “Nature as Culture,” each artist examining a cross-cultural, timeless, and innate human drive to infer cultural and historic meaning from our natural environment.
The exhibition title references an eponymously titled book by Wes Jackson—a pioneer of the sustainable agriculture movement who founded The Land Institute in 1976—in which he explores the tensions between a self-regulating ecosphere and the human drive to subject it to the demands of agricultural systems.
Nature as Measure is curated by Candice Madey of Stellar Projects—a curatorial and art consulting platform in New York.
The work of Cui Fei begins in the wild, accumulating large quantities of stones, thorns, seeds, or vine tendrils that, when returning to the studio, are incorporated into sculpture, works on paper, installations or further integrated into unexpected monoprinting and casting processes. The repetition of form in Cui Fei’s work follows the patterns of Chinese calligraphy and other pictograph-based languages, however, its meaning transcends the specificity of nation, culture or ethnicity in favor the universally accessible natural forms.
Julia Bland’s paintings are created through a wide range of traditional and invented techniques of working with fiber and oil paints. She cuts, dyes, weaves, paints, burns, collages and stitches her works in beautifully complex structures that are inseparable from their image—often suggesting universally recognizable archetypal forms such as vessels, serpents or hands. The color palettes and compositions are influenced by unique natural environments, and channel her sensory experiences of time and place into the patterns and architecture of her work.
Ryan Mrozowski is interested in how natural imagery is adopted for human use and the optical systems that connect, or disrupt, visual activity and mental images. Mrozowski approaches his work with a sense of play, using found and familiar images of plants and animals in unexpected sequences, pairings and inversions. His paintings and oil stick drawings challenge the notion that perception is ever direct or unmediated, and by extension, suggest the subjective and cultural nature of human-constructed designs of the natural world.
Jenny Perlin’s work in film, video, installation and drawing emerges from interdisciplinary research in history, literature and linguistics. In a series of red, orange, and yellow oil stick works on paper, Perlin addresses philosopher Henri Bergson’s assertion of orange as a space of connection and sympathy with its component parts, red and yellow. With the metaphor of the color spectrum, Bergson finds a method to help the reader actively visualize and experience his complex concepts about duration and intuition. As in much of Perlin’s practice, these works on paper render visible cultural and historic factors that underlie scientific and linguistic systems and our perception of natural and built environments.
Mary Simpson’s paintings, watercolors, and drawings have long alluded to mythologies of ancient and contemporary culture, referencing the human and natural forms through poetic abstractions. Following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the work turned to more representative depictions of flowers in an attempt to address an unsettling political climate with blatant acts of beauty. The ongoing series of watercolors and ink drawings have since become a ritual-like act, or active form of meditation—whereby each day the artist is performing, replicating, and sequencing floral images in the studio.
Zhao Zhao has frequently used repeated forms or actions in his work as a form of insistent social and political commentary. In his recent video, the familiar gourd is shown in great numbers, a crop and a form with great significance in traditional Chinese culture, most notably suggesting good fortune and blessings. However, here the unnumerable gourds are shown growing in formed molds, revealing the commercial growing industry that attempts to create the perfect product for the mass markets. Far removed from its natural, or even a normal agricultural environment, Zhao Zhao questions the effects of forced conformity and commercialization on blessed objects, and by extension their audience.