Natural Inquisition

Natural Inquisition

Curated by Ellis Marksohn

We pretend we are not animals.

We apply deodorant, wax our legs, remove our wrinkles through and medical procedures, drive our cars to get just about anywhere, and go to sleep in our constructed shelters. The immeasurable urbanization of the past century has changed how we engage with the natural world. These three works from CPW’s Permanent Print Collection – Lucas Foglia’s photograph Acorn with Possum Stew, Phil Underdown’s Grassland #204, and Diane Meyer’s Under Western Skies – address this evolving dynamic in different ways.

Lucas Foglia’s series A Natural Order gives us a window into various remote communities throughout the southeastern United States. He focuses his lens on individuals who have chosen to live off of the land by adopting archaic survival techniques, many abandoning the modern technology that defines our digital age. “Acorn with Possum Stew” invites the viewer into this enchanting world through the gentle gaze of a man holding a contrastingly barbaric looking dinner. However, Foglia presents Acorn not as a rough edged caricature of a Neo-Neanderthal age, but with a reverence towards his lifestyle and a respect for his participation.

While Lucas Foglia’s image highlights a revival of an antiquated lifestyle, Phil Underdown’s series Grassland depicts the impermanence of our structures, and subsequently indicates our own ephemerality. Through banal repetition and an investigative eye, Underdown photographs the same manufactured grassland, again and again, in search of subtle changes. The dead deer nestled in spiraling grass becomes a signifier of cause and effect, an enigmatic mystery. Underdown describes the project as a “type of fiction; a story of a place told through the traces of its inhabitants—a tire mark here, a bird house or a puddle of broken glass there. Signs of its past, present, and future mark its rationalized topography like small-scale reenactments of the dramas playing out in the world around it.” This indexical image depicts man’s effort to create nature that never was, the grooming and caretaking required to uphold this national wildlife refuge, and the artificiality of nature preservation itself.

Diane Meyer approaches artificiality from a different angle. She focuses on our cultural relationship to the landscape and the connotations that can be associated with place. Photographing in the Alabama Hills of California, where 70% of Hollywood Westerns were filmed since the 1920’s, Meyer shows us tourists who have come to this region specifically for its iconic status. The tourists in “Under Western Skies” are drawn to this landscape only because of its role in Hollywood fiction. Meyer confronts the spectacle and commoditization of nature; it becomes an attraction, not unlike Disney Land. Ultimately, the sightseers are disengaged with their surroundings because they project contrived worlds onto them. They appear largely disconnected from the environment, especially when in contrasted with Foglia’s Acorn.

The swift pace of technological development and our expanding notions of synthetic production form not only a new efficiency, but also a growing nostalgia for simpler times. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to re-evaluate our species’ past and our planet’s future. Collectively, Meyer, Underdown, and Foglia, convey the transience of our perceptions, the impact of historical context, and our ever-changing relationship with the landscape. New questions arise in this world filled with expanding cities, genetic modification, and an infinite network of knowledge that you can access within an arm’s reach, 24/7. This proffers the question, is anything actually natural anymore? And, does that matter? How do we define natural in a digital technological age?

-Ellis Marksohn, Arts Administration Intern
Spring 2012