By Tracy DiTolla
How often do you sit and contemplate your relationship with nature? For the majority of people, I am willing to bet the answer is rare to never. I know that’s my answer. But when I was forced to think about it, I realized we have a tumultuous relationship with nature; we try to control it, protect it, exploit it, destroy it, preserve it, etc. Planting a garden, killing weeds, mowing the lawn, picking up vegetables at the store, and vacationing at the shore are just a few of the hundreds of way we connect with nature. In fact, maybe it is because of the immersion in constant interactions, on so many levels that we forget to think about nature at all. Living Together: Nurturing Nature in the Built Environment, the current exhibition up at the Court Gallery at William Paterson University, examines the complicated relationship between humans and nature. This exhibition showcases the works of artists Anne Percoco, Ellie Irons, Tattfoo Tan, and Dana Fritz.
With environmental issues sure to play a role in the upcoming presidential debates, at a time when global warming is a current reality, and with Earth Day right around the corner, this show poignantly brings everything down to a more personal level. The personal element is highlighted nicely by the fact that viewers can handle or even sit on many of the objects in this show. We can personally interact with the art that is about our interactions with nature.
As I walked into the atrium gallery, I needed to get accustomed to the uncomfortably high temperature, assumedly kept that way for the benefit of the plant life. The first images that I came across were photographs by Dana Fritz, which document enclosed plant environments. These images immediately set the stage for thinking about the many different types of relationships we have with nature, including this rather strange one of removing nature from a natural environment and placing it in a manmade one.
On the other side of that wall, lies the center of the gallery, which is partially enclosed and houses a large installation by Ellie Irons and Anne Percoco called Next Epoch Seed Library. The collaborative project looks into preserving invasive plants, and weeds, which are most likely to continue to thrive in an environment made up of predominantly GMO plants. Viewers can take and leave seeds that are stored in a house-shaped cabinet. There is also a couch, a coffee table made of repurposed cinder blocks, various reading materials on how to care for certain plants, plant specimens to examine, a desk with a magnifying glass to examine seeds underneath it, and a live butterfly flying around.
I found the most interesting installation to be S.O.S. Mobile Garden by Tattfoo Tan. It consisted of a wall covered with cards people had signed promising to use local produce, recycle and perform various other small activities to help protect the environment. Anyone was able to sign a card and hang it on the wall, which, for a time at least, forces the viewer to think about his or her responsibility to the environment. A few feet in front of the wall were his most intriguing pieces — his moveable gardens. Tan repurposes milk crates, skateboards, and even a vacuum cleaner to create moveable gardens. These pieces emphasize the importance of recycling with the idea that you can also be creative about it. These works also point out that you do not need a vast expanse of land to have a garden, you can create one in almost any vessel, and even roll it around with you if you had the inclination to do so.
Living Together draws sharp attention to the vital issues around our interactions with the environment, reminding us that we are all responsible for the health of the planet. Unfortunately, we often forget that while we are buzzing about in the day-to-day craziness of life. Sometimes we get lost in mundane details and forget to step back and look at the big picture; the importance of keeping the environment we live in healthy. This exhibition makes the viewer contemplate our strange and complex relationship with nature and offers solutions by pointing to the small acts we can do to nurture that relationship. Happy Earth Day.
Living Together: Nurturing Nature in the Built Environment is on view until May 13, 2016.