Saturday, April 9, 2011

How "green" is your g(art)den?

by Dean Liscum (all photos by Dean Liscum)

"Defining Green" is an outdoor installation at Russ Pittman Park at at 7112 Newcastle, Bellaire, TX 77401. It's curated by the Dirt Committee Artists for Defining Green, which consists of June Woest, Lisa Qualls and Lucinda Cobley. They have a blog, Muncipal Dirt, which provides additional information about this show as well as past shows (this is the 3rd annual) in Pittman Park.  The title, theme, and I assume working premise of the show is "defining green." As I viewed the show during a curator lead walk by June Woest and Eric Duran, I thought about what "green" means.

Woest's piece Interpreting Horticultural Therapy recycles on multiple levels. First it re-purposes natural materials (leaves and tree stump) that have completed their primary purpose. Second, as alluded to by the title, it re-purposes human energy so that the activity becomes not only what it, horticulture as work, but also something else, therapy. Today, it's a trend. In 1911, it would have made sharecroppers the senseis of mental health. (Oh, the difference context and a century makes!) Whatever the greenness, I like the juxtaposition of the leaves and the wood. Formally, they work for me. And if "green" is about recycling, this brown work is green.

June Woest and Urban Artists,  Interpreting Horticultural Therapy, 12 gage aluminum, leaves, 50 lb monofilament, 13' Height x 3' diameter

Michael Golden's now could be a gravestone for the "Green" movement and the earth itself or it could be a memorial meant to mark the moment in green. It could also be an inspirational touchstone concerning what is "green" now and what it will be in the future. The viewers perspective determines the definition of "green" and more importantly its tone.

Michael Golden, now, Dakota granite, 2011

Green Canopy by Cobley and Mari Omori tackles the challenge literally by translating "green" into 12 different languages and then cutting the words into a plastic sheath that they hung in a long chain-link corridor. The light through the leaves and translucent plastic speaks for itself. At dusk, it's an elegiac combination of human and natural materials and handiwork. If "green" represents harmony between man and nature, this piece is green.

Lucinda Cobley and Mari Omori, Green Canopy detail, 25’ x 6’, Hand-cut re-used polythene and clothes pegs

Lucinda Cobley and Mari Omori, Green Canopy detail, 25’ x 6’, Hand-cut re-used polythene and clothes pegs

The environment animates Defining Green Copper by Elena Lopez-Poirot.  It scintillates in the sunlight while the breeze blows the suspended pieces of copper. Of the works in the show, it's the one most likely to "green" as the copper oxidizes and is covered with a patina of verdigris. However, I doubt the chemical transformation will occur before the show closes. It falls in the green = harmony category.

Elena Lopez-Poirot , Defining Green, Copper

Nature had it's way with As it was in the beginning... According to Eric Duran, it started off as doll arms, legs, and heads emerging from or subsumed by the earth (finish the biblical quote and you get the "subsumed"). Based on the artist's description, I imagine the doll parts planted/emerging from the earth. However, I saw it 2 weeks after the opening and it looked more post-apocalyptic than antediluvian. Through heavy rain and strong winds, mother nature left her curatorial imprimatur. Out of either artistic integrity or indolence, the artist refused to rearrange it. From the title, I intuit that the work is about the circle of life. I experienced the work somewhere in the messy middle, no longer waxing and not completely waned. In this context, "green" seems to acknowledge that mother nature win. Do what you want but in the end she'll have her way with you.

Eric Duran, As it was in the beginning…. , Found objects

(Warning: Dolls were abused, some might say severely abused depending upon how you interpret dismemberment, in the making of this art work.)

Eric Duran, As it was in the beginning…. detail, Found objects

Amie Adelman left me ambivalent with her "Basketry". I wanted to both climb inside of it and run like hell from it. As for the question of how the piece "defined green", I have no idea. I was too busy wrestling with the Freudian implications of my response.

Amie Adelman, Basketry, Cotton line and round reed

(Inviting and yet...not so very)

Amie Adelman, Basketry, Cotton line and round reed

Hedge by Lisa Qualls and Lotus Bermudez is clever and possibly insidiously "green". Is its green coloring from microbes that will cover and consume the refuse that remains when we've turned each other into fertilizer? If so, hopefully a few artistically inclined humans will remain to neatly arrange the detritus. It's definitely in the "you're mother nature's bitch" category.

Lisa Qualls and Lotus Bermudez, Hedge, Ceramic and wire, 2011

Roll Me! apparently arrived at the park on opening day as a bunch of painted wooden slates, plastic ties, and a sign written by artist Patric Renner that said something like "Help me make art out of these natural materials." Renner collaborated with the audience and Roll Me! is what the viewers who were present for the opening made. Maybe "green" is what we make of it.

Patrick Renner and anonymous collaborators, Roll Me!, wooden slates and plastic ties, 2011

Urban Intrusion by Lesli Robertson and Rene Muhl is an ecological lecture (in sculptural form) about how man-made systems affect natural systems. The concrete boxes containing branches are laid out in the pattern of a branching root system. The compartmentalized pieces allude to the disruption that our infrastructure imposes on nature's infrastructure. The concrete and plexiglass boxes metaphorically represent the isolation and disruption the human systems cause to the natural ones. For this piece, I'm going with "green" = harmony, or everyone and everything ends up in concrete boxes.

Lesli Robertson and Rene Muhl, Urban Intrusion detail, 2011

(The branch, which looks to be covered in concrete, has the word "Decay" embossed on it.)

Lesli Robertson and Rene Muhl, Urban Intrusion detail, 2011

(Concrete boxes laid out like coffins or sewer drains or fire hydrants or ...)

Lesli Robertson and Rene Muhl, Urban Intrusion section, 2011
Like Roll Me!, Celebrating Nature was the result of artist (Susan Plum) and audience collaboration. I'm not sure who did what or what the symbolism of it was but here's the result, which I can only interpret as adulation. I do know that they wanted to adorn the tree with lighted candles and the park ranger said "No".

Susan Plum and anonymous collaborators, Celebrating Nature detail

So they embroidered candles on transparent cloth and attached them to the tree. "Green" you can party both with and for sounds like a sustainable approach.

Susan Plum and anonymous collaborators, Celebrating Nature detail

Joseph Cohen and daniel-kayne chose to define "green" by marking time. They used the remnants of a fallen tree to both commemorate the tree but also create a piece that marks the passing minutes (via sundial) and years through the deterioration and weathering of the white "table top". The table top is actually a canvas painted white with an off-white circle impasto-ed in the center. The arrangement of the trunk seats and shape of and placement of the sundial heighten the contemplative nature of the piece. Is it tombstone (both the sundial in the center and the piece as a whole) or a touch stone? The weathered white paint conjures up the use of white as a funeral color in many cultures.   

Joseph Cohen and daniel-kayne, Untitled, 2010 – 2011, fallen oak, house-paint, cinder blocks, 5’x5’

Joseph Cohen and daniel-kayne, Untitled detail, 2010 – 2011, fallen oak, house-paint, cinder blocks, 5’x5’

I regret not being able to photograph Jennifer Overfield's Temperance because of the lack of light. It consists of a penciled outline of a daurian peony (I cheated and asked) with splashes of color on very thin vinyl sheet 54" x 43". At dusk in the slight breeze, it subtly shimmers. May be it was the moment, twilight, but for me this piece also fit into the momento mori category of green, grandiose but gone or going.

If after viewing this exhibit, someone were to ask me to define green, I'm not sure I could articulate a single definition or a clear call to action. But I do hope that the raising of my consciousness isn't just an ephemeral "green" fix that will dissipate like the humidity in my car as I cranked up the A/C for the long drive home.

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  1. I saw a similar exhibition in Bellaire a year or two ago. How did I miss hearing about this one? Get thee to the green! Next weekend.

  2. I will admit, I didnt repair the doll piece, b/c of the prolific poison ivy that has overtaken the piece. Nature wins again.