Alex Da Corte, Emily Vey Duke + Cooper Battersby, Nick Lenker, Annie MacDonell, Allyson Mitchell, Andrea Vander Kooij
The Warehouse Gallery opens its first exhibition of contemporary international art with Faux Naturel, 9 November 2006 through 27 January 2007, free to the public. Artists will attend the reception on November 16th, from 5:00 – 8:00pm, Th3’s citywide art night.
As citizens of the industrialized world remain unmoved to understand how our comfortable habits like commuting to work or having a cup of coffee are ruining the earth and shortening the lives of innumerable beings, the natural world shifts deeper into the category of the endangered. Life as we know it is limited. Summers grow hotter and hurricane season grows longer with our use of conveniences like air conditioning and private transportation. The incidence of forest fires and mudslides climbs in pace with our demand for cheap food and housing, which in turn lead to irresponsible farming and logging practices. Produce is artificially cheap because of tariffs that protect agribusiness. Our government facilitates the intentional wasting of crops, the bankrupting of family-run farms, and exploitative labor practices.
The group of North American artists presented in Faux Naturel is young enough to have grown up with a more informed sense about the environment, with Earth Day pre-printed on calendars and global warming existing as more than just a theory. These artists explore the territory delineated by the destruction of the natural world, with all its attendant themes. Entropy, redemption, apocalypse, the fall from grace, the temptations of commercial culture, and the relationship between science and magic all emerge as motifs in this exhibition.
With the addition of a new sound at its head, the French phrase au naturel becomes a strange twist on its original meaning. It is no longer naked, plain, unadulterated, without artificial ingredients. Faux naturel is translated as “fake naturalness”: Having the appearance of genuineness, with, perhaps, intent to deceive or an inability to remain true. It may evoke a dreadlocked, barefoot hippie perfumed by Chanel, or an amusement park log ride made of molded plastic bark. Faux Naturel is the title of this exhibition, used without the stigma of insincerity. There is an authenticity in these artists’ practices, stripped of trendy cynicism. Many of the works draw from personal stories—sublimations of painful experiences reclaimed and reshaped into something beautiful and heartfelt, with the power to transform.
In this contaminated atmosphere, artists in cities pine for the untainted innocence of nature, understand mortality more profoundly, and envision a stronger species.
– Astria Suparak, Director
• Death and mutation have become means for betterment in the hands of Nick Lenker and Allyson Mitchell. In CloudKill, Lenker has given new life to a cat beyond its nine allotments, by casting its found body into a set of ceramic multiples. Created out of mud and reborn in the flames of a kiln, each eternally sleeping head has been resurrected for a social fear Lenker has slain. The unfortunate death of a stray has given Lenker a fresh, bolder existence. CloudKill is mounted on the wall like a collection of trophies for an underappreciated skill.
•Rather than supporting skins from a hunter’s spree, styrofoam taxidermy forms become the seeds for a new breed of animal in Allyson Mitchell‘s series of sculptures, whose individual titles combine the word “sassy” with the animal types (e.g., Sassquirrel, Sassquog). A mix of the synthetic and the natural, these creatures look like the result of nuclear waste, acid rain, and artificial sweeteners. In an interview with Kiss Machine, Mitchell explains her use of “’domestic’ materials to depict the ‘undomesticated’ feral female animal as it represents an endangered part of the human psyche.” Made of fake fur, found textile, and reptilian glass eyes, these hot pink, rare mammals casually display their nipples (rendered as felt flowers by the artist) without the shame or self-consciousness that female humans learn through social conditioning.
•There is a sense that reality has been thwarted, that the subjects’ lives have been stilled at their most fetching moments in both Mitchell and Annie MacDonell‘s works. In her Scenes from the Vanity series, MacDonell layered old posters to depict magazine-perfect silhouettes set amongst sutured fantasy gardens. These flawless bodies and blossoming branches will never decay. Yet each piece of paper the artist has incorporated attests to time’s subtle corrosion, visible in degrees of yellowing and ghostly ink bleed.
•Abundance and redemption emerge as a theme in Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby‘s video. Songs of Praise for the Heart Beyond Cure ends with unexpected scenarios of hope in dire circumstances – specifically imminent death, malicious violence, and consuming addiction. As Sarah Milroy writes for the Globe and Mail, Duke and Battersby’s video is “anything but depressing… [it is founded in] a sense of wonder at the endearing weirdness of life and all the vulnerable, furry little creatures immersed in it (especially us).”
•Echoing this sentiment, Andrea Vander Kooij has created delicate embroidered works reminiscent of botanical drawings, but with an eloquent twist: the images reveal the skeletal structure of the critters they depict. This simple device adds gravity to the otherwise cheery images of a squirrel nibbling a nut and a perched bird gazing skyward. They are reminders of our inevitable corporeal end. The vintage sheets Vander Kooij uses as quaint backgrounds could have draped deathbeds, but now invoke life and death simultaneously.
• In Alex Da Corte’s Damnation Wallpaper, bronze figures freefall into shame, their genitalia covered by censorious primroses. Based loosely on Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Da Corte’s figures being cast from the Garden of Eden tumble upside down, adorned by twenty-six colors and flocked indigo lines. This complex silkscreen print, wrapping the majority of the gallery’s west wall, is as ornate as his colossal snake pit in the center of the gallery, titled Thieves. In both installations Da Corte has made the representations of sin enticing, playful, and exquisite with dazzling colors, oversized scale, plush fabrics, and superior craftsmanship. Da Corte’s work revisits ancient Judeo-Christian questions about the relationship between innocence, human desire, and natural beauty.
How do we, as privileged members of the first world, reconcile pleasure and responsibility? How does one resist temptation when the repercussions aren’t tangible or immediate? Seemingly innocuous actions have grave results, as is reported nightly in the news. Is nature naïve to our viciousness, or forgiving of our filthy ways? How many times can the earth lick its wounds before lashing back?
Faux Naturel showcases work never before exhibited in New York by emerging international artists. The works installed for the unique dimensions of The Warehouse Gallery are Lenker’s CloudKill, Duke and Battersby’s Rest for the Wicked, Da Corte’s Thieves and Damnation Wallpaper.
November 16, 2006
5 – 8pm: Exhibition Reception
November 17, 2006
10am: Artist Talk: Allyson Mitchell
CANADIAN ART MAGAZINE:
Given my prejudices, I found “Faux Naturel”—a group show celebrating some of the many wonderful ways artists have contrived to recreate woodland splendours, but without all the mucky bits—just my kind of walk in the park. Presented in a brightly lit, well-ventilated, even sterile gallery, “Faux Naturel” reminded the sensible viewer (and me) that, exotic and mysterious as nature may be, it’s best left to its own devices. After all, you’ll never catch Lyme disease from a fun-fur deer.
Tidily curated by Warehouse’s director, Astria Suparak, the exhibition sported a neat division between works that strove for broad, dramatic statements about our confused and contradictory relationship to the non-synthesized world and works that offered a more contemplative, even muffled response to nature’s overbearing, symbol-loaded presence.
– R.M. Vaghan, “Faux Naturel,” Canadian Art Magazine, Fall 2007 Vol.24 No.3, pp136-137
SYRACUSE CITY EAGLE:
Last Saturday afternoon [during installation] the gallery still exuded chaos. Under a spotlight in the room’s center rose a tangled mound of Alex Da Corte’s vivid fabric snakes. Above them, a halo of neon-colored streamers hung from the vaulted, 21-foot ceiling and brushed the floor. When deployed, these lines enable some of the serpents to rise and float.
On another wall, his “Damnation Wallpaper” turned out to be Matisse-like figures tumbling out of Eden. Nick Lenker’s repeated ceramic cat head casts hung on another wall, delicately echoing some hunting lodge’s larger antlered trophies.
This disarray all comes together as “cheerfully dark,” says curator and gallery director Astria Suparak. The collages, video, sculpture and prints by seven young artists from Montreal, Philadelphia, Syracuse and Toronto “ponder deceit, nature, temptation and excess” and humanity’s “pining for perceived perfection and innocence of nature.”
…On Saturday, Frank Olive, who moved here from Manhattan to work with Suparak, brought out a single foot-high pink-furred ferret-like creature with huge baleful eyes, one of Allyson Mitchell’s “Sassquogs.” Still to come, were Annie MacDonell’s collages of female silhouettes, “Scenes from the Vanity,” and Andrea Vander Kooij’s revelatory embroidered fabric graphics of faint skeletal traces beneath a squirrel’s cute fur.
…Emily [Vey Duke] and Cooper [Battersby]’s tree. Wedged between the walls of the smaller room off the main gallery – which opens up suddenly just past a benignly small entrance – an 18-foot crotched maple tree trunk lay… Suspended from the ceiling, it becomes a garden swing on which to watch their video, “Songs for Praise for the Heart Beyond Cure.”
“Songs of Praise” takes its title form the Bible. This single-track short video combines animated figures, kaleidoscopes, downloaded footage of cities across the globe, some of it very effectively time-lapsed, and the artists’ own footage of forest-dwelling birds and a feral cat in a candle-lit, trash-strewn cellar. Duke and Battersby sing parts of the episodic, poetic, sometimes scatological, script in haunting Gregorian chant style. They lament humanity’s failings towards the natural world and marvel that still “the birds come back.”
Civilization seems in ruins, from the Hollywood hillside sign to Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall to the Kremlin to the winking lights of Hamburg harbor far below. Alternate sections present animated characters, like the junior high schoolgirl Petra, who starts her own club of anti-popular kids to fend off the psychic overwhelm of the cool. An ancient, bearded wizard observes that we fear nature and “have to teach it manners.” “Songs of Praise” ends with a litany of the seemingly lost who declare they will survive. When installed, this deeply affecting video loops every 15 minutes.
The swing installation is Duke and Battersby’s first venture into sculpture, added just for this show.
– Nancy Keefe Rhodes, “Views of Nature,” Nov. 9, 2006
POST-STANDARD: Katherine Rushworth, “In the Natural World,” Stars Magazine, Dec. 3, 2006
WAER 88.3 FM: “Embracing Winter at The Warehouse Gallery.” Women’s Voices Radio, Feb. 22, 2007. Interviews with Andrea Vander Kooij, Allyson Mitchell, and Annie MacDonell
November 9, 2006 – January 27, 2007
@ The Warehouse Gallery, Syracuse, NY
July 7 – August 25, 2007
@ Foreman Art Gallery at Bishop’s University, Sherbrooke, QC, Canada