Amidst the global, local and daily challenges of adapting to climate crisis and the Anthropocene, I have found it increasingly distressing to try to conceptualize an optimistic vision of the future that also allows for the perpetuation of our historical tendency to center the human as the crown of creation in the hierarchy of our material world.
Instead, the glimmer of hope that I have found is to visualize a different way of being. I imagine and try to manifest an alternative existence that engages our surroundings and environment with an interest in and respect for the ¨thing-power¨ (as Jane Bennet calls it) inherent in all material objects. “Thing-power” acknowledges the vital materiality of all things, and as Bennet describes it, “I believe it is wrong to deny vitality to nonhuman bodies, forces, and forms, and that a careful course of anthropomorphization can help reveal that vitality, even though it resists full translation and exceeds my comprehensive grasp.”
This recognition of the material energy inherent in all things regardless of their title as animate or inanimate makes particular sense when thinking about imagination, nature and art. It is my hope that the small sculptures I make encourage viewers to re-contextualize their awareness of Self as an Ecological Self.
The sculptures I create are essentially portraits of objects that are very much alive and living in their found landscapes. Utilizing various materials, my work creates a portrayal of these landscape without using the traditional modes of landscape history painting. In lieu of translating a vista or fully representational space, I use objects found in an existing habitat to serve as points of reference for that place. Instead of simply collecting an object from a place – a rock, a stick, a piece of detritus – to represent a location, I leave the object that sparked interest in its found place and craft its identical “sister-object” using a variety of materials and trompe l’oeil style painting.
Often the objects chosen are small celebrations of the modest, the mundane or the unremarkable and serve to remind us of the value found in the ecology of an environment, with each element serving a purpose. These sister-objects are made with intention and aim to spark a renewed relationship with and appreciation for the landscapes and objects they impersonate. Art has a special ability to reframe our attention, and my work strives to focus that lens of attention on our human relationships with what we traditionally view as the non-animal.
I hope the people engaging with my work will be reminded that objects considered inanimate by the modern world are not only alive – as all matter is alive and porous – but also have the capacity to shape the web of interrelationships of which all things are a part. Thinking more broadly about the concept of Conatus, as described by Spinoza, the energy and drive holding a rock together (the conatus) is the same drive holding our human bodies together. All physical things in the world share that trait and look to other objects/bodies to help enhance their conatus. The sister-objects, when brought together, offer a vision of conative objects acting collectively to build a more vital assemblage, without losing their individual properties.
It is my task to imbue what might seem like a random or banal detail from a landscape with a new importance. Personally, the sister-object serves as a keepsake from a specific experience in a specific location. For the viewer, it allows one to imagine the environments from which these objects came. These avatars serve as an alternate way of engaging with the history of landscape representation in art.
On a very practical level, my studio practice involves both sculpture and works on paper. My sculpture work utilizes a variety of materials to mimic found objects (generally sourced from hikes/walks in rural areas) that are then curated as “wall mappings” or small diorama type displays. The printmaking component involves monotypes that are hand cut into plant shapes to create “living wallpaper.” Having experimented with translating environments, both imagined and real, through many different mediums I have found that no one way clearly surpasses the others. I appreciate most the way they work together, in a chorus, like the elements of an ecosystem.