Gallery Walls

Adam Cvijanovic’s Post-Natural History at Postmasters Gallery

DiscoveryOfAmericaDETAIL

Discovery of America(installation detail ) 2012
flash acrylic on Tyvek, 15 x 65 feet

This post comes to you from EcoArtSpace

Gallery Review by Leila Nadir for ecoartspace

There’s no such thing as nature.

For some, this fact is commonplace: there is virtually no place on earth untouched by human beings, especially if climate change is considered. For others, this fact inspires deep anxiety: What exactly do nature skeptics think trees and glaciers are if not natural? These dichotomous responses to the current environmental condition of our planet usually causes conversation to stalemate. It is rare when a piece of writing or a work of art breaks through this divisive questioning to initiate a genuine dialogue about the complicated relationship of the human species to its physical environment—ecologically, historically, and perceptually.

Adam Cvijanovic’s recent solo exhibition, Natural History, at Postmasters Gallery, which ran from September 8–October 13, exposes the elaborate artifice behind what we call “Nature.” However, his paintings do not adopt a simple, “nothing-is-natural” stance. Rather, they suggest that nature may in fact exist but that humanity’s access to it is filtered by the accumulation of cultural data settled into our minds, shaping how we think, see, and imagine. Whether through advanced communications media or the seemingly isolated movement of a painting brush, anytime we reference or depict “nature,” Cvijanovic suggests, we are circling it, containing it, trying to capture it with our net of compulsive human misunderstanding.

The centerpiece of the show is the sixty-five-foot Discovery of America, which Cvijanovic painted on Tyvek and adhered directly to the gallery walls. The painting involves a collision of three scenes. An artist who has vacated her/his studio is in the process of creating a landscape painting of the western North American coast during the Pleistocene era. The pristine nature in the painting is inspired by dioramas at the Museum of Natural History. Armadillos, saber-tooth tigers, mammoths, and many other prehistoric species roam the mountains and the plains, most of whom disappeared quickly after the arrival of homo sapiens on the continent. Shop lights, 2x4s, a ladder, and a pizza delivery box are scattered about a grey floor, a floor that merges with Postmasters’ own concrete floor, melding artwork and gallery, creating for a feeling of displacement for the viewer—as if we can’t trust our own senses, as if any perception of nature is framed by unstable categories.

Crashing into the pristine nature of Discovery of America’s Pleistocene landscape is a scene of men dashing through the plains on horses, based on a photograph of the Oklahoma Land Rush in 1889. Rendered in black-and-white, the cowboys appear to be riding through an old Hollywood Western film, and they cause the canvas to shred and tear, smashing its frame into smithereens. The destroyed continuity of the painting suggests the inability to depict what exactly happened when humanity arrived in North America, or when European settlers pushed aside indigenous inhabitants—as if there were a chronological or geographical gap in our representational abilities. How do we cognitively imagine what life on earth was like before the destruction wrought by our species? The painting’s wooden structure spills out onto the studio floor, where the artist has left quite a few empty bottles of beer. The painting shows that this rupture is momentous, cinematic, but also mundane, the aftermath of which we are all living in today, in a human-dominated planet earth. What more can we do than go have a drink?

White Tailed Deer 2012flash acrylic on Tyvek 99 x 144 inches (8.25 x 12 ft)

White Tailed Deer 2012
flash acrylic on Tyvek
99 x 144 inches (8.25 x 12 ft)

Cvijanovic’s other paintings cite far-ranging sources of our contemporary visions of nature, including the romantic Hudson River School painters Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt, the mythical fantasy of unicorns, and perhaps most relevant to our times, media culture. White Tailed Deer offers a colorful, fall-time forest with an elegant lake in the background. The trees and leaves are nearly realistic, but they contain a hint of the high-contrast colors associated with animated film and video games. Standing in the foreground and framed by bright red leaves is a truly animated character, Bambi, surrounded by his skunk and rabbit friends from the 1942 Walt Disney film. The animals have huge, wide, glowing eyes—the sort that make humans say “Ah, how cute” before bending down to pet the wild animals who, in a real forest, would have no interest in them. Although White Tailed Deer’s collision of traditional landscape painting with a film animation of wildlife is not as stark or as violent as that in Discovery of America, we are reminded of the vast distance between nature and the ways in which our culture and media shape the way we see understand this concept. How many of us have had a friendly, fun Bambi (or Dumbo, Simba, Thumper, or Sebastian) lurking in our unconscious?

In Osborne Caribou, a caribou stands tall and proud atop a pile of bloody, skinned carcasses. That the caribou are gutted with the clean lines of a knife indicates a hunters’ work, suggesting yet another way in which humans relate to the natural world, as food to be eaten. The standing caribou looks hyperreal; the outline of his body is too vivid and smooth, as if Cvijanovic were adopting a photoshop aesthetic in his painting. The caribou looks as though it might move at any moment. The painting raises the question as to whether our encounters with animals have become so dominated by media representations that we expect animals to act like animations.

Osborne Caribou  2012flash acrylic on Tyvek 99 x 144 inches (8.25 x 12 ft)

Osborne Caribou 2012
flash acrylic on Tyvek
99 x 144 inches (8.25 x 12 ft)

Natural History is not a clever riff on the American Museum of Natural History nor a nonstop vortex of signifiers nor a self-referential painting about painting, as previous critics have claimed. Those elements may be present, but Natural History goes beyond them to initiate an artistic meditation on the labor and subjectivity behind what we call science and nature, behind the supposed objectivity of the museum. Nature is not a perfect origin or an untouched state in Cvijanovic’s work. It loses that aura of timelessness. Instead, the viewer becomes aware of nature as an elusive quality that is always in a state of becoming and unbecoming, subject to whims, to moods, to the media we have consumed or the beers we have imbibed. Does Discovery of America really depict what the Late Pleistocene Era looked like? Does the Museum of Natural History do better? Or are our understandings of natural history the product of a painter who just ate too much pizza? Cvijanovic’s work asks, are we, as human beings, imprisoned by our own natural concepts, illusions, and designs? Nature might exist but it can only be understood through out limited and malleable human imagination.

ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

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Soundwave Festival ((4)) Green Sound » July 9

Featuring sound selections by Luc Meier with exhibition artists Jorge Bachmann, Agnes Szelag, Ben Bracken, Alan So, Suzanne Husky, Sam Easterson, Alyce Santoro, Reenie Charrière, Vaughn Bell, Elin Øyen Vister, Jessica Resmond

In Soundwave Festival’s most ambitious presentation ever, Green Sound mounts a special month-long exhibition and performance residency at The Lab. The Illuminated Forest is an imaginary world inside the gallery walls of San Francisco’s preeminent experimental art space that features a large immersive multi-media and interactive exhibit and performance installation from the collaborative minds of Agnes Szelag, Ben Bracken, Jorge Bachmann and Alan So, and environmental artist works by Vaughn Bell, Alyce Santoro, Sam Easterson, Reenie Charrière, Suzanne Husky, Elin Øyen Vister, and Jessica Resmond.

The main installation is manufactured by projections, sensors, MAX/MSP, sound, sculptural shapes and light/shadow where visitors become its inhabitants and part of its ecosystem: their presence activates both visual and auditory sensations, and leaves an imprint on the environment long after they are gone. It demonstrates our own connection to the environment and how we are all interconnected. Our presence in the environment affects this space and is forever changed (for better and for worse) with our temporal presence. This experiential exhibit actively reminds people what we do has impact: on our own lives, on others, and the world around us, both in the present and the future. It is a human reminder of the life existing outside our urban borders, its importance, and the power it can play in our lives while raising questions about a natural world lost.

The Forest will host experiential performances by some of the most compelling local, national and international artists and musicians. Inspired sound purveyors from across the sonic spectrum will explore themes of reinvention and recycling, real and imagined natural environments and creatures, endangered species, water, environmental awareness and responsibility, plantlife/animal life, and other artist imaginations.

In various eddies around the forest, artists re-imagine a place with Suzanne Husky’s textile trees and soft rocks, Sam Easterson’s animal-borne imaging, Vaughn Bell’s moving and wall mountains, Alyce Santoro’s Sonic Fabric, Jessica Resmond’s birds nests, Reenie Charrière’s Washed Up waterfall and Elin Øyen Vister’s Soundscape Røst installation on the birds of Røst archipelago in northern Norway.

Join us in celebrating the opening of The Illuminated Forest featuring sound selections by Luc Meier.

Born in Vevey, Switzerland, Luc Meierhas entertained an actively peripheral relationship to sound over the past decade. As a journalist, he has reported on contemporary music practices for magazines, newspapers and websites in Switzerland and elsewhere. At the same time, he has helped stage musical encounters and events in Switzerland, Japan, Korea and the U.S. Luc currently manages the art + technology programs of swissnex San Francisco (www.swissnexsanfrancisco.org) and has organized several sound art events in this capacity. Along the way, Luc has occasionally provided background music for the tinnitus crowd, with DJ-sets showing a clear bias towards accidental coherence over planned linearity. His collages typically run the gamut from the inaudible edges of electro-acoustics to Mexican techno via a shabby gotha of wayward tunesmiths and hauntologists.
http://www.swissnexsanfrancisco.org/

Jorge Bachmann is a photo-based, multimedia and sound artist. He has collected field recordings exploring the strange, unique and microcosmic sounds of everyday life. He creates sound atmospheres meant for deep listening and often composed in symbiosis with the sculptural installations exploring social and sensual constructs and experiences. [ruidobello] has exhibited and performed in North America, Europe, Japan and South America for the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, MoBu Dance Group, and Soundwave Festival, amongst others. He has been Soundwave’s Technical Director and Resident Artist since 2005.
http://anihilo.com/
http://ruidobello.ch/

Agnes Szleg’s music, video and installation art has been featured in national and international festivals, on the radio, television, and in podcasts. Whatever medium she is working in, Agnes creates work which focuses on change and transformation – the glue can be as important as the pieces it holds together. Agnes received her MFA in Electronic Music and Recording Media from Mills College and her BA in Radio/TV/Film from Northwestern University. Her solo EP No Summer or Winter on Aphonia was hailed as “a distinctive voice in the electro-acoustic field” by Textura, and “gorgeous” by XLR8R. Agnes currently lives and works in the Bay Area.
http://www.aggiflex.com/

For the past 15 years,Ben Bracken has been creating a unique sonic language utilizing electronics, acoustic sound sources, guitar, and field recordings. Interested in the possibilities of echo-relocation in sound-based art, his work has oscillated between performance and installation, often blurring the lines between the two. The location of the event becomes an active participant, intimately shaping the nature and direction of each work. In the spring of 2006, Ben received his MFA in Electronic Music from Mills College. He currently resides in Oakland, CA and works at Cycling ’74, the developers of Max/MSP and Jitter.

As an artist, designer, producer and curator,Alan So has created and supported innovative art for over 15 years. Alan founded ME’DI.ATE in 1998 to provide a forum for diverse artists to showcase works to a world in desperate need of innovative ideas. In 2002 he began his exploration of sound as an artistic medium and, in 2004, launched the Soundwave festival. Soundwave has been featured in numerous media outlets, including San Francisco Magazine (Best of 2007 Award), Resonance FM (United Kingdom), PBS, and BBC. Alan has exhibited his work in the US and Canada and is concerned with issues of identity, social structure and place with an interest in the experimentation of form and concept. He has organized exhibitions and events Online, in New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area and his native Canada where he received his BDesign from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design.
http://www.me-di-ate.net

Bay Area multimedia artist Suzanne Huskyobtained her MFA from Ecole des Beaux- Art of Bordeaux and has participated in artist residencies in Europe and the United States. Her art addresses environmental problems related to the exploitation of natural resources, landscape use and globalization. Suzanne’s sculpture, drawings and photography question the environmental, social and political agenda of the mainstream media. Her work observes and analyses in an inventory form that allows the nature of the subject to unveil and reveal its complexity. In the Bay Area, her work has been exhibited at the de Young Museum, Southern Exposure, Intersection For The Arts, The Lab, Headland Center for the Arts.
http://www.suzannehusky.com/

As a video naturalist,Sam Easterson is best known for his animal-borne imaging. His work has been exhibited in numerous museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, and featured on television networks, including the Sundance Channel and CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman. Sam also works as a museum professional; recently he developed video content for the Schad Gallery of Biodiversity at the Royal Ontario Museum. A graduate of The Cooper Union, he also received an MS in Landscape Architecture (University of Minnesota), and has received grants from the Durfee Foundation, the Creative Capital Foundation, and others. Sam is a recipient of the prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Prize.
http://www.sameasterson.com/

Alyce Santoro, an internationally noted conceptual and sound artist with a background in science and scientific illustration, is a kind of archivist – a compulsive collector of snippets of the natural environment (auditory and otherwise) – who incorporates her specimens into her art. Her multimedia “philosoprops” and “subtle reality technologies” employ sound and video, assemblage, and performance as part of a grand investigation into everyday phenomena. Santoro is best known as the inventor of SONIC FABRIC, an audible textile woven from recycled audiocassette tape. SONIC FABRIC has been the source of exhibitions and performances in museums, festivals and galleries around the world with features from the New York Times to the Sundance Channel to People Magazine. Her works are in private collections of the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, FIT Museum New York, FIDM Los Angeles and that of Phish percussionist Jon Fishman and legendary performance artist Laurie Anderson.
http://www.sonicfabric.com
http://www.alycesantoro.com

Reenie Charrière: I am an investigator of the environment surrounding my everyday actions. Art is a way to be present and reveal what may be blurred and discarded. I am a tourist wherever I go. I invite others to tour unadvertised locations, which may be right around the corner. I am most interested in the potential of under-noticed sites, and the juxtaposition of what is natural to what is synthetic. I look for what has gathered over time, and what continues to develop. Light, and line motivate the way things are situated in space. Living in the West but not being originally from here has broadened my sense of vastness and the potential of open spaces. Being overly curious and having my studio in Jack London Square has led me to collect from the Oakland estuary and compelled me to experiment with what is there, the tides, the salty water, and the tremendous washing up of plastic. I am deeply concerned about the pollution accumulating all around me. As a mixed media artist my work may take on a multi-sensory form in sculptural installation amplified by video or digital projections.
http://web.mac.com/rcharriere/

Vaughn Bell creates interactive projects and immersive environments that deal with how we relate to our environment. She has exhibited her sculpture, installation, performance, video and public projects internationally. Most recently, Vaughn created a commission for Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and another for the Edith Russ Site for New Media Art in Oldenburg, Germany. Her work has been featured in Artnews, Afterimage, and Arcade Journal, among others. Vaughn received her MFA from the Studio for Inter-related Media at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, MA and her undergraduate degree from Brown University. She currently is based in Seattle.
http://www.vaughnbell.net

Child of Klang aka Elin Øyen Vister is a Norwegian sound artist and composer. She has studied sound engineering, music technology, and popular musicology in Norway and England. She is also known under the alias DJ Sunshine, one of Norway’s most versatile and eclectic DJ´s. She was one of the pioneers on the Norwegian drum´n´bass scene in the 90íes. She has organized, curated and run festivals, festival programs and club programs nationwide and she has played records all over the world from Svalbard to Costa Rica.
http://childofklang.wordpress.com
http://www.myspace.com/childofklang

Jessica Resmond is a French American artist who received her BFA from California College of the Arts, San Francisco. Resmond’s work is conceptual and tactile. Its main interest lies within the existing tensions between biological rhythms & organisms, and the fast pace technology/economy driven global landscape. With a scientific background in molecular biology and a deep interest for nature’s ever evolving creative designs, her process, is one of constant research. Borders and boundaries are where exchanges take place, where transformation is possible and new understanding arise. Her work includes site specific installations, interactive or multimedia sculptures and experimental collaborations.
http://www.jessicaresmond.com
http://www.meicollectiv.com

via Soundwave Festival ((4)) Green Sound » July 9.