The disappearance of the crew aboard the Marie Celeste is inexplicable, as is the colony collapse disorder occurring with the North American Honeybees. There is no evidence that they died or migrated to a new location. The mysterious absence of bees could lead to huge problems in the future, because without pollination no food can be grown. The natural sustainability of using bees to keep producing our food is at risk. This leads to the bigger question of the sustainability of uninterrupted nature. At first glance Alison William’s Glasshouse #3, a shed walled in with panels of terrarium-filled glass, seems naturally self sustaining. However, upon further inspection, one realizes that without the human touch that sealed all the glass terrariums, and built this shed, nothing would have grown in the first place.
In The Lot, William’s Homage to Guerrilla Gardening displays a similar, “almost all natural” sustainability. Around the lot are a vast array of plants growing in old sinks, bathtubs and other man-made objects. On one side of the lot, a bicycle that has been retrofitted to pump the collected rain water to the plants when pedaled, stands as a reminder that the plants are growing because humans allow them to. Williams says that she has “come to realize that [her] role is that of a facilitator.” She initiates the life of the plants, and then lets them inhabit her creations. Her art recognizes the importance of the human touch in nature.
Eva Struble’s Bitumar Tanks, a painting dominated by three large metal tanks in various states of disrepair seems to warn that the human touch can also subjugate and destroy nature. Behind the tanks in the foreground are roughly painted green forms, which seem to represent wildlife that has been caged behind a multitude of vertical black lines. This wildlife looks desperate, reaching out from behind its cage, trying to cling to any last resources it can find. This scene displays the threatening side of adding too much human artificiality to natural processes.
What happens after too many human-made things have overrun nature? Stephen Bush’s Rhodamine Mabel Bungaara, and Eva Strauble’s Cambridge Iron I each seem to answer that question very differently. Bush illustrates a landscape of iridescent colors, containing purple trees, green and pink clouds and a vermilion ground, marked with unhealthy green puddles. This painting depicts a changed form of nature. In the middle-ground stands an old-fashion style explorer, which seems to represent a re-finding of the ravaged landscape, and then rebuilding off of it. This rebuilding is reflected in the few country-style houses populating the orange landscape. In the foreground is a sickly looking goat, representing the damage to nature. To its left is a beekeeper, protected by a full beekeeping suit, but wearing sandals. The beekeeper is faithfully doing his job, spraying smoke at the ground by the goat’s feet, despite the lack of bees. Perhaps the beekeeper and the humans of this post-apocalyptic scene blame nature for their downfall, even though they have caused it themselves. This lonesome beekeeper is trying subdue any nature he can find.
While Bush seems to predict an attempt at rebuilding, Eva Strauble’s Cambridge Iron I contains a vast disarray of broken mounds of man made objects, all so jumbled that they are no longer discernible as individual objects. Covering the entire scene are wires and cables, tangled so densely they attract attention wherever you look at the painting. Notably absent from the painting is anything living, or anything that was once living. Just piles of materials left behind. Strauble seems to predict a Marie Celeste on such a grand scale that all of life has disappeared.
The Marie Celeste exhibition has been extended, on view now through September 16, at Artspace 50 Orange Street, New Haven, CT.
Philip Bayer is a rising sophomore at Glastonbury High School
Images: (Right) Alison Williams ,Glasshouse #3, 2011 (Left) Stephen Bush, Rhodamine Bungaara, 2011