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A Walk in the Woods

Sensing the Forest, an exhibition curated by Jennifer McGregor at Wave Hill, examines the varied relationship between nature and contemporary art. A diverse group of artists addresses issues ranging from mysticism to ecology to kitsch. The exhibition is housed in the Glyndor Gallery, one of two manor houses on the former Wave Hill estate, from which visitors survey landscaped gardens and a romantic belvedere overlooking the Hudson River Valley. On the opposing banks of the Hudson are wild forests and McGregor creates an interesting interaction between contemporary artists’ visions of nature, 19th century gardening, and real forests viewed from afar.

Allyson Shotz, Untitled (Reflective Mimicry), 1997, c-print, edition of 6, 24 x 36 inches.

George Crespo exhibits an installation based on Taino folklore. Long wooden rods are strapped together like tent pole architecture and suspended from the ceiling. To the poles are bound dagger-like wooden implements, pointing downward toward the interior of a wooden canoe which rests on the floor. The environment suggests an animistic spirit in wood along with a sense of danger and foreboding. Bently Spang’s installation, first realized on the artist’s Montana reservation, makes use of castoff means of transportation like a rusted tricycle or the dismembered door and hood of an automobile covered with silver duct tape. From the ceiling hang myriad wires that have been wrapped in found materials, and Spang suspends faux animal hides made from poured latex from the ceiling. The meticulous act of wrapping fetishizes these objects in a curious way, as though to bestow manna on vehicles deprived of movement.

Allyson Shotz exhibits a slimy constellation of green latex vines which hang from the ceiling. From each vine sprout clusters of rubber grapes. With the slightest breeze these vines sway in unison in a highly discomforting manner like an unstoppable legion of weeds. The installation suggests an unnatural propagation of seeds from plastic ornamental fruit in a suburban home. Robert Weins contributes a trompe l’oeuil watercolor painting of white pine bark. The painting presents all the tactile fascination and patterning of tree bark, while leaving the viewer with a disappointing sensation of loss. All we have is an image on paper. Indeed, the paper may have been produced from the demise of the very tree depicted on its surface. Eduardo Rincón presents an installation on the Amate tree, which is endangered in Mexico where it is aggressively harvested to produce paper pulp. Rincón plays on issues of presence and absence through collage compositions of real specimens and their representation in two dimensions on paper.

Several artists work with the tree as a sculptural object. Robert Lobe presents a three-dimensional aluminum form that was created by hammering and drawing metal around an existing tree trunk. First one side was created and then the other and the two were joined together, leaving a hollow cavity where the tree had once been. Aluminum is an industrial material which interacts with light in such a way as to transform the tree into a dematerialized yet lifeless shape. Lobe’s work occupies a strange netherworld between industrial stasis and organic growth. Luis Castro transforms Osage orange trees and a maple from Wave Hill into spherical forms. Tall complex trees are transformed by Castro into the simplest shape of seeds, from which they once sprouted.

Canadian artist Linda Covit contributes one of the most intriguing works titled Hearing the Forest. It consists of a gigantic ear horn fashioned from linden wood which rests on a metal tripod. To access to the mouth of this earpiece, a man or woman must climb three stairs. Covit’s piece suggests the diminutive relationship that all people have to the forest, and her horn amplifies the mysterious sounds of birds, wind in the trees, animals, and insects. In order to hear the forest with Covit’s device, the listener must face away from it, and sounds resonate in a forest of the mind.

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Sensing the Forest will be on view from September 16 through December 25, 2001 at Wave Hill’s Glyndor Gallery, 675 West 252nd Street, Bronx, NY 10471-2899. Call (718) 884-8952 for additional information.

© Daniel Rothbart, 2001.

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