Man Changes Nature as Nature Changes Man Art and science collaborate in “anthropoScene” By Anne Tschida BT Arts Editor
Landscape art is as old as civilization itself — our relationship with nature has always been fodder for artistic creation. It became popular in East Asia with Chinese and Japanese ink paintings, and reached its peak in the West with the romantic landscape paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries. In our 21st Century, we still have a close connection between art and nature, but with more of a bite. Gone in general are the nostalgic depictions of untouched wilderness; many artists today have a more activist and interactive engagement with the environment, often because so much of it is endangered. And the genres have expanded beyond visual art to many disciplines. An exciting and original example of this is opening March 4 at University of Miami, cleverly titled “anthropoScene:Art and Nature in a Manufactured Era.” A group of scientists has dubbed our current state as the Anthropocene epoch, the era in which human behavior has affected the climate and environment of the entire planet.
Miami, no surprise, is at the center of this change, surrounded by rising sea levels and the shrinking Everglades. This month-long exhibition addresses that state with an eclectic mix. Organized by UM’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy and the College of Arts and Sciences, the project involves scientists and 11 artists whose work spans the cultural spectrum, from poetry and music to photography and sculpture. The collaboration began when students expressed an interest in combining the fine arts with their science studies, says Gina Maranto, director of Ecosystem Science and Policy. She sought out the College of Arts and Sciences, which last year launched a Da Vinci Scholars program, and the idea spread. At a planning meeting, she recalls, artist and director of Artists in Residence in Ever- glades (AIRIE) Deborah Mitchell was in attendance, and the show began to gel.
“AIRIE’s work raising awareness about the precious, one-of-kind eco- system in our front yard dovetails with the Abess Center mission,” she says. “Thanks to her network of artists who have worked in the Everglades or participated in local environmental art shows and events, she was able to bring together an impressive range of works in multiple media.” Artist Felice Grodin, a locally based artist with an architectural background,has made a piece with fellow architect Noel Palacios, where they link the digital world with the physical, in what she calls an “artificial excavation.” The result is four 3D translucent plastic sculptures. The title of the exhibition, she says, can further explain the work. “The three things mentioned — art, nature, manufactured — cannot be separated.We are living in a time where, for better or worse, these divisions are collapsing. I believe the first step is to attempt to render this somehow and in some way.” Dan Dickinson had been working with weather “to influence musical compositions in real-time, both using electronics and with live musicianssimply reacting to the weather according to a score.” That seemed a perfect fit for the show, so he has created Wind Chime. We’ll see a six-foot pipe structure topped with an apparatus that measures wind speed. “When the wind blows, you’ll hear some freshly generated music made up of sounds that were recorded on the University of Miami campus. There are a lot of songbirds, but also some air conditioners, humming light fixtures, sounds of me banging on sculptures, and squirrels.” He also added his own score.“As the wind picks up,” he says, “the texture gets more complex, much like an actual wind chime.” Mitchell, who also ended up becoming curator, has been exploring the Everglades in her work for years, but she also lives in Miami Beach, where she can observe the effects of climate change firsthand. She has several pieces in the exhibit addressing the issue. In one installation, she follows the fate of an old hunting cabin she encountered when updating GPS codes in the Everglades. It includes photos of the cabin, a replica of it, and, in a depiction printed on wood, the cabin circa 2040 immersed inRising Seas.
Mitchell also simply documents the beauty of the River of Grass. Migration1 is a painting of swifts “darting through golden sawgrass I found near Mahogany Hammock, near Flamingo in the southern Everglades,” she says. Biologist Skip Snow collaborated with photographer Dana Levy for Animal Masks, based on their hike through the Glades. While Levy’s photos captured the relationship between the manmade and wild worlds she encountered, Snow documented the walk itself. Biologist/artist Keith Waddington delved into his own, broader collaboration with hisInterspecies Collaboration. He asks us to look at what long-term implications to the planet and the species our interventions may be having. “This is a very compelling piece when one con- siders the plight of the honeybees during the last several years,” says Mitchell.
Another artist with a biology back- ground, Lucinda Linderman, will also contribute — she uses industrial detritus in her biomorphic sculptures — as will poet Brenna Dixon. The Canadian duo of Daniel Dugas and Valerie LeBlanc will screen the series of short videos they made while on an AIRIE residency in 2014, called FLOW: BIG WATERS.
Not only has landscape art changed since those idyllic scenes painted in past centuries, nature too has changed during the Anthropocene era. There is an underlying theme here that we have to adjust to new realities so we can inhabit the same spaces and survive. “The birds don’t exist in some quiet Audubon paint- ing — they too are constantly having to live with those air-conditioner noises,” says musician Dickinson. “But you know, it’s part of the environment that they’ve grown up with, and it’s as much a part of their environment as anything else.”All of the artists will deliver work- shops throughout opening day, a special event that not only students can gain from, considering the breath of multi- disciplinary artists on hand.
But these types of projects need to be aimed at young people, says Maranto.“It’s vital to expose our students to the whole range of human responses to the environment, from the empirical to the emotional, because if we’re to shift to more sustainable ways of living, technology and ecosystem management alone aren’t sufficient,” she says. “We need to experience a change in consciousness…. There is no ‘we’ and ‘it.’ Nature is us, and we are nature.”
“anthropoScene: Art and Nature in a Manufactured Era” opens Wednesday, March 4, with a daytime gallery tour, workshops, and official opening at 5:30 p.m. Runs through March 24 at the College of Arts and Sciences Gallery of UM, 1210 Stanford Dr., Coral Gables. Go to anthropocene.weebly.com or call 305-284-8519.