Sunday, April 26, 2009


This semester we've been examining the meaning of nature and the way artists have envisioned it through visual art, writing and film. It's fitting that nearing the end of semester we look at post-nature and what that might mean. There's something ominous about the concept of post-nature, to me it refers to two ideas: either a dystopian model of the world or a Post-Apocalyptic model. Ever since reading Brave New World in jr. high I've been fascinated with dystopias. Unlike other well-known dystopian novels like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World takes place in a world that I would describe as post-nature; human civilization has overtaken nature (in the form of our own biology) by replacing our normal form of reproduction by 'growing' children in hatcheries. While written in the early 1930s, Brave New World tackles the idea of a future society that has conquered conventional nature through the use of science and technology. In a similar vein, the 2005 "The Island" describes a seemingly utopian society in the mid 21st century where inhabitants are waiting to win the lottery so they can go to the last unspoiled place on Earth. Two of these inhabitants, however, Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta,come to the realization that they are actually clones and a product of a company that sells harvested human organs to those living outside of their facility.

Both Brave New World and The Island tackle the issues of our civilization's increasing dependence on technology and questions how the consequences of our tampering with nature. This is one form of post-nature, our control/power over our environment. The other post nature scenario stems from a post-Apocalyptic standpoint: civilization and Earth as we currently know it is dramatically altered due to a 'natural' phenomenon like a disease epidemic or disaster like a meteorite/giant tsunami/volcano/swamp monsters or a 'manmade' disaster like global warming, famine from overpopulation or nuclear war. Dozens of novels and movies have been based on this model of post nature, sometimes Earth is depicted as being harsh and inhospitable, with any surviving humans having to live underground or in highly controlled conditions while in other cases nature has overtaken manmade structures, thus returning the environment to a more pre-historic state.

William Christenberry, Kudzu with Storm Cloud, near Akron, Alabama, 1981.

The show at the New Museum titled "After Nature" grounds itself somewhere between the dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic models of post-nature. After reading through the curatorial description and viewing the pieces on the online exhibition works, the 3 works that most closely visualized how I imagine post-nature are the following: William Christenberry's photograph of kudzu (a type of parasitic plant prevalent in the Southern U.S.), a still from Walter Herzog's film "Lessons of Darkness" and the collaborative piece (?) by Allora and Calzadilla, Growth (Survival), 2006. Grafted tropical plants and Jenny Holzer’s Blue Wall Tilt, 2004. Christenberry's photograph, while taken in 1981, points to how quickly nature could overtake manmade structures. I have to admit to not seeing Herzog's film but the ominous billowing clouds of smoke reference science and industry and a future that could not be too far off-- a landscape that has become too polluted to inhabit. The piece Growth (Survival) combines a natural element and technology but falls into the Brave New World model as the plant has been grafted, so there has been human intervention in the growing and production of nature.

Allora and Calzadilla, Growth (Survival), 2006. Grafted tropical plants and Jenny Holzer’s Blue Wall Tilt, 2004

It could just be the edit chosen for the Web site, but the pieces shown don't necessarily reflect the curatorial description of the show. While I find the theme of the show provocative, the statement frequently lapses into hyperbole and is grandiose in its vision. One such example, the following is taken from the statement that describes the show as "A requiem for a vanishing planet, "After Nature" is a feverish examination of an extinct world that strangely resembles our own." It also states that the show is an examination of "wilderness and ruins" and is a story of "a story of abandonment, regression, and rapture." What most of the images available on the Web site lacked is tension and the struggle between what can be considered manmade and what can be considered natural (ignoring the fact that we are a part of nature). Is "After Nature" meant to be a warning? It's described as the "landscape of the future" by the curator, implying that there is still some sort of landscape in the future.

After looking at the images in the show I came to the conclusion that after nature/post-nature doesn't refer to a future devoid of nature but instead is a vision of an Earth that has been significantly altered by either the aftereffects of humans or has been dramatically changed through our direct alteration of nature.

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