Arts and Culture

“Nature Talks Back” explores tensions between humans and nature

Beard and Weil Galleries are going au natural this month. “Nature Talks Back” is the first of four multi-disciplinary art exhibitions to go on display this academic year. All four exhibits will focus on the relationship between science and art, in honor of the new Mars Center for Science and Technology.
Specifically, the exhibit questions why society pits culture against nature instead of viewing the two as intertwined. The various works within the exhibit explore this tension and pose the question to viewers.

The artwork currently on display features five artists: Elizabeth Keithline, Rob MacInnis, Sally B. Moore, Sandra Stark, and Alison Williams. They utilize different mediums of expression, including sculpture, video, still-life, and miscellaneous displays, and each brings his or her own perspective on the subject of nature versus culture.

If you happened to walk by the galleries, you may have noticed a steel wire sculpture of a car. This is a part of Keithline’s “Only the Strong Survive.” Facing the car are life-sized steel wire animals, symbols of the combat between humankind’s technology and animal life’s naturalness. Also by Keithline is a series of “Acrylics on Paper,” created with spray paint on canvas. Each canvas features the silhouette of what appear to be birds.

Also visible from Haas Concourse is Williams’s “Garden Viewing Room.” From the entrance to the gallery, the piece appears to be a wooden structure with a curtain. Beyond that curtain, however, is a small room with multimedia displays, including a projection, sound effects, and small windows through which one can view features of a garden: dirt, flowers, gloves, various jars, etc. Of this work, Williams comments, “Garden negotiates the boundary between imposing actions and reacting to nature’s wildness.”

Williams’s other works include similarly styled displays with various items on wooden shelves. These are entitled “Evidence Cabinet” and “Some things are worth keeping.” Williams will be giving a talk about her art and career on Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. in Ellison Lecture.

MacInnis is the creator of the videos in the exhibition, including “Tree Sound,” which includes the featured image on the flyers around campus. The video shows various images of trees with a score composed by Dr. John G. Cramer to represent the Big Bang. The sound is based on radiation noise recorded by astrophysicists in Antarctica as a result of the Big Bang itself.
Sandra Stark created the still-life pieces of the exhibition. These images were inspired by the death of her mother and include many of her belongings. The natural aspects of her works are dead animals. As her mother was dying, her pets began to bring her dead animals every day.

“Baby rabbits, mice, rats, birds of all kinds became part of my daily exchange with them. It was as if to say ‘It is okay to look at death,’” Stark recalls. Her prints, a collage of elements of the natural world and human belongings, resemble the images found in I Spy in their scatterbrained appearance,
Sally B. Moore’s work is three-dimensional figures similar to Keithline’s, though mostly constructed out of wood and paper rather than wire. Many of her pieces feature towers or suspension, including “Arabian Oryx,” which shows an Arabian Oryx at the edge of a platform, pulling a boulder. She explains, “Our current consumptive needs and desires push our majestic fellow beings to the edge of existence. Many species, such as the Arabian Oryx, teeter on the edge of survival.”