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Strange Nature: Environment as Content

Richmond Art Gallery Jun 25 to Sep 5 2010
Mary Anne Barkhouse  <I>Succession</I>  2007  Courtesy the artist Mary Anne Barkhouse Succession 2007 Courtesy the artist

Mary Anne Barkhouse <I>Succession</I> 2007 Courtesy the artist

In a summer plagued by record-breaking temperatures and resource-extraction disasters, it is perhaps timely that the Richmond Art Gallery’s current group exhibition, “Strange Nature,” ponders the delicate and often fraught balance between human and natural worlds. Bringing together three contemporary artists who turn to the environment for the content and material of their works, the show underscores the ways that we employ cultural systems and visual representations to distance ourselves from the immediacies of the animal world. Mary Anne Barkhouse’s installation Succession, for instance, uses found materials such as beaver-chewed sticks to evoke a royal sitting room for a trio of stately, long-eared rabbits. Perched upon lush velvet stools, the three rabbits hold court in front of a series of colour-coordinated banners bearing minimalist depictions of the moose life cycle from growth to mating to death by wolf attack. Ornamentation is also the mediating force between viewer and animal in Jennifer Angus’ intricate dollhouse worlds; these are populated by farmed weevils that appear to be hard at work with domestic chores. Framed by Angus’ signature Victorian-style wallpaper designs, which are also made from jewel beetles and cicadas, A Worm’s Eye View evokes homemaking as childhood play to point to the essential creative work that insects do in sustaining the world’s ecology. Finally, Robin Ripley’s Threnody, a series of carefully conserved leaves that have been mended and pieced together with thread and pins, seems to be an earnest (if futile) exercise in stopping the entropy of natural decay on a very small scale. It is a gesture that, despite its fated outcome, offers a refreshingly direct engagement with the physicality of the natural world that has the potential to make our relationship with nature a little less strange. (7700 Minoru Gt, Richmond BC)

This article was first published online on August 12, 2010.

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