A man has attached a video camera to the back of a tarantula. Each hair-covered leg jumps in front of the lens and we are at gravel-level, scurrying across the open plain. Are we running from a predator? Hunting for food? The screen goes black. When the lens opens again, we are seeing through the eyes of a cow.
These are the videos that make up The Museum of Animal Perspectives by Sam Easterson (he has also attached cameras to a falcon, a pheasant, and a tumbleweed). Created for "educational purposes," they are also some of the most exciting video footage imaginable, and the opening work in EcoArchive: Meditations on Time and Nature at Intersection 5M Gallery. The show presents nine artists working in a variety of media who take a studious approach to the subject of nature, resulting in a show that feels both bleak in its outlook and beautiful in its honesty.
Most virulent is the repetition of empty landscapes. Just inside the door are a series of charcoal-dark photographs of lakes and deserts in the western United States by Chris McCaw. Each bears a clean burn mark through the print in the shape of an arch, crossing the sky in a diagonal like a shooting star. McCaw builds his own cameras to make these "unique gelatin silver negatives." The exposures can be hours long, and are photographs of an extremity: land underexposed to the point of exclusion, sun so hot the paper catches fire.
"Bay Dredge," Cynthia Hooper, 2010.
Also featured are several videos by Cynthia Hooper. Even, lonely landscapes with a dead-center horizon are cut in slices by pipes or false roads. Without affectation, Hooper uses video to document the effects of industrialization and land mismanagement. Each space is shown just long enough to take in the discolored water, the unfriendly sky, or the barren zone of past development. In the best of these, Exportadora de Sal (2007), traces of disruption include a tarp-covered hillside and a culvert pumping crystalline water from one nowhere to another. A layer of drifting foam makes even the ground feel unstable. It quakes and shivers, and is blown in gusts directly at the camera. Beyond giant beeping machinery, the only living thing trapped in the space is a man in thigh-high wading boots, testing the depth of a salt pool with a two-by-four. Hooper cautiously wraps the viewer into her stories: I found myself marveling at the oblique characteristics of the landscapes and compelled to read their full histories.
"Into the Burl," Chris Sicat, 2010.
Some artists find their meditation in giving agency to nature. Karl Cronin can be seen dancing the movements of plants and animals (Somatic Natural History Archive 2009-10), and Chris Sicat painstakingly coats bare wood surfaces with an even coat of graphite. Sicat's works include a planed redwood that reaches floor to ceiling (Tag a Log 2009) and a giant oak wood burl (Into the Burl 2010). Getting lost in the metallic sheen, the folds of oak are not unlike the otherworldly landscape at Craters of the Moon.
There are no portraits of people in EcoArchive, but the consequence of human activity is salient and implicit. Absence is central to many of the works, and both the landscapes and handmade works employ a distant industrial aesthetic. From McCaw's meteor-like photographs to Hooper's barren salt flats, the landscape feels post-apocalyptic. The knowledge that these works were created in real and immediate spaces is troubling, and gives us cause to hear these artists out.
EcoArchive: Meditations on Time and Nature is co-curated with Patricia Watts of ecoartspace. Other artists include Tamara Albaitis, Mark Baugh-Sasaki, Matthew Moore, and Jessica Skloven. The exhibition runs through Jan. 22, 2011 at Intersection 5M in San Francisco. For more information visit theintersection.org.
Images courtesy Jeremiah Barber and the artists, c. the artists.