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Jenine Marsh: Where Greenhouse meets Darkroom

Jam together the 19th century English landscape garden with its meandering paths, topiary and prerequisite points of interest with the makeshift geodesic domes of the 1960s artist community Drop City. Or define two sets using a Venn diagram, label one nature and the other architecture and examine their shared space using artificial turf, Mylar and a creepy Buckminster Fuller–esque structure.

This is the territory of installation artist Jenine Marsh, who spent a number of weeks in the dark basement of Stride Gallery constructing Topiarium. The result: an eight-foot transparent and reflective pseudo-bubble highlighted by a green spotlight. The surface skin of Topiarium is composed of transparent Mylar latticed with scored and ink-drawn lines. Inside hangs a tiered basket that holds plastic train-gauge trees and other arboreal eye-catchers. Jagged artificial turf bushes rise and poke through holes in the top of the Mylar. Scattered across the under-lit floor of her bubble, which is like a lake of glowing ice, are drawings of tessellations, biomorphic patterns and Uccello-like perspectival objects. At the back of the bubble, which from this angle appears cut in half, the installation extends across the floor where plastic mirrors are arrayed to reflect the bubble and the viewer in a space that appears to exist below the floor of the room.

It’s tough to pinpoint the exact message in Marsh’s diorama. At times it’s a mock terrarium, at other times the details spin into cliché sci-fi imagery with the bushes appearing as mountains in a glass-covered city. Marsh engages many competing themes here, but what rough edges exist are easily forgiven in light of the energy and obsessiveness she brings to the work.

Hers is a world where the natural ecosystem is recreated as a schematic, a layered and plastic simulacrum seen through a compound eye. The shifting facets distort viewpoints suggesting that the intersections between architecture and nature are continually located and dislocated, sort of what designers of early English gardens saw as a goal. Ultimately Marsh’s work, feeling like a blend of childhood tent and biomorphic microcosm, is compelling for its unstated subtext: a young, savvy artist attempts to interpret an interconnected, wired world shifting at an algorithmic speed. (1004 MacLeod Tr SE, Calgary AB)

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