Ghost Nature

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Ghost Nature
Curated by: Caroline Picard

UIC College of Architecture and Art
400 S. Peoria Street (Art and Design Hall, First Floor)
Chicago, IL 60607
January 17th, 2014 - March 1st, 2014
Opening: January 17th, 2014 5:00 PM - 8:00 PM

West Loop/West Town
Tues-Fri 10-6; Sat 12-6; by appointment


Curated by Caroline Picard, Ghost Nature is a group exhibition based around the strangeness of the natural world. As Timothy Morton posits in The Ecological Thought (Harvard University Press, 2010), “nature qua nature” no longer exists as an “over there” place. Humankind is wholly integrated within its “mesh” and, as such, the Romantic desire to commune with a landscape beyond the scope of humanity is impossible. Nevertheless, there remains an inherited desire to so. It is a glitch. The tickle of a phantom limb. A desire forever unfulfilled but nonetheless maddening. Working in sculpture, photography, drawing, and video, artists in Ghost Nature investigate the borders and bounds between human and nonhuman experience. 

Jeremy Bolen documents multiple facets of the landscape, juxtaposing subterranean traces of radioactivity with images of scenery above ground; a material layer of dirt is scattered on the surface of the prints. Heidi Norton embeds living plants in her work, creating new and abstract frames with glass and wax. Irina Botea frames landscape in another way, filming a tour guide on his quixotic search for the perfect, “picturesque” view. Works in the show periodically bump into limited capacities: for instance Carrie Gundersdorf’s translations of planetary bodies into the motifs of abstract, colorist painting, or Assaf Evron's wooden interpretation of an algorithmic color model, the form of which is determined by the systemic limitations of the computer from which it originated. Milan Metthey courts ducks and Art Orienté object exhibits documentation of a horse-to-human blood transfusion. Attempting to connect with non-human beings, Metthey and AOo vie to transcend anthropocentric life. Inherently fraught and prone to failure, these efforts test deep-seated assumptions about what is, and what is not, natural. Rebecca Mir writes love letters to the ocean. Marcus Coates installs a white cube, calling it the "Platonic Spirit" of a wolf, its wildness stripped blank, not unlike a tombstone. Robert Burnier folds aluminum into crumpled abstraction, and the Institute of Critical Zoologists installs a bee trap using blue paint as bait—a minimalist gesture that may or may not work. Xaviera Simmons' photographs question the fixity of personal identity by way of material assemblages. There are fanciful movements too, as with Agnes Meyer-Brandis’ moon goose colony, or Akosua Adoma Owusu’s fabled man-spider, Kwaku Ananse. The show, which features nineteen artists, creates an eclectic aesthetic ecology within Gallery 400.

In 2007, the Northwest Passage opened up in the Arctic. Scientists continue to predict dramatically rising seas. Bee populations have fallen rapidly, raising questions about food production. Mice grow human ears on their backs in laboratories and rabbits glow in the dark. In this new age of ecological awareness, “Nature”—what was once an ideological retreat for Thoreau and Emerson—is but a dithering spirit. Rather than succumb to the pang of this loss, Ghost Nature exposes the limits of human perspective in the emergent landscape that remains: a slippery network of sometimes monstrous creatures, plants, and technological advancements. Perhaps that Romantic site never existed in the first place—and yet without it, how are we to reframe our concept of the natural world? How do we incorporate and integrate human participation?