Nature as Measure considers artists who layer natural forms with systems and structures. Although the use of grids, parameters, and processes in making their work references a rational and ordered architecture, Nature as Measure challenges the hubris and folly of human design, while also exploring the political and social ideologies embedded in everyday representations of nature. Here, systems are appropriations, or illusions, that in fact question the idea of rational beauty and the superiority of ordered systems, artistic or otherwise. The exhibition could similarly be titled “Nature as Culture,” each artist examining a cross-cultural, timeless, and innate human drive to infer cultural and historic meaning from our natural environment.
The exhibition title references an eponymously titled book by Wes Jackson—a pioneer of the sustainable agriculture movement who founded The Land Institute in 1976—in which he explores the tensions between a self-regulating ecosphere and the human drive to subject it to the demands of agricultural systems.
Nature as Measure is curated by Candice Madey of CANDICE MADEY, New York and Stellar Projects, a gallery and art consulting platform in New York. This installation marks the second iteration of the exhibition. The first took place at Chambers Fine Art in Beijing in fall of 2019 and included work by Julia Bland, Cui Fei, Ryan Mrozowski, Jenny Perlin, Mary Simpson, and Zhao Zhao.
The work of Cui Fei begins in the wild, accumulating large quantities of stones, thorns, seeds, or vine tendrils that, when returning to the studio, are incorporated into sculpture, works on paper, installations or further integrated into unexpected monoprinting and casting processes. The repetition of form in Cui Fei’s work follows the patterns of Chinese calligraphy and other pictograph-based languages, however, its meaning transcends the specificity of nation, culture, or ethnicity in favor the universally accessible natural forms.
Song Hongquan’s sumptuous white marble sculptures convey human, animal, and botanical forms, skillfully replicating the intricacies of organic material in stone. Their scale belies the forms’ humble origins as seeds, thoughtfully gathered, catalogued, and referenced by the artist in the studio. Song Hongquan is inspired by the rural farming community of Hebei province, where every day and intimate objects, such as seeds seeds, tools, kitchenware, sustained his family’s life for many generations. Song Hongquan’s consummate craftsmanship is the result of five generations of master stone carvers. However, he works with untraditional subject manner, elevating commonplace objects to the status of the regal and majestic.
Jenny Perlin’s work in film, video, installation, and drawing emerges from interdisciplinary research in history, literature, and linguistics. In a series of red, orange, and yellow oil stick works on paper, Perlin addresses philosopher Henri Bergson’s assertion of orange as a space of connection and sympathy with its component parts, red and yellow. With the metaphor of the color spectrum, Bergson finds a method to help the reader actively visualize and experience his complex concepts about duration and intuition. As in much of Perlin’s practice, these works on paper render visible cultural and historic factors that underlie scientific and linguistic systems and our perception of natural and built environments.
Pareesa Pourian’s paintings are dense with visual play. Vegetal and geometric patterns evoke the surfaces of domestic interiors, such as Persian carpets, wallpaper, or linens. Pourian’s palettes capture the natural landscapes of her life–the lushness of Louisiana, where she grew up, and the verdant landscape of the Catskill mountains, where she lives and studies herbalism and local plant life. Pourian is also a poet. Her writing, like her paintings, embodies of the raw and physical experience of seeing and feeling oneself as part of a wild and natural environment.
Mary Simpson’s paintings, watercolors, and drawings have long alluded to mythologies of ancient and contemporary culture, referencing the human and natural forms through poetic abstractions. Following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the work turned to more representative depictions of flowers to address an unsettling political climate with blatant acts of beauty. The ongoing series of watercolors and ink drawings have since become a ritual-like act, or active form of meditation—whereby each day the artist is performing, replicating, and sequencing floral images in the studio.