“Wo(Man) Made” at the Brand Library and Art Center
By Genie Davis
Man Made, which closed at the Brand Library and Art Center on May 6th, is really woman-made. The show deals with the idea of human-made, of all mankind if you will. Man Made focuses on the ways in which human beings engage with their environment, and as such explores the contrast between made or manufactured structures and the natural environment. Interestingly, Nancy Buchanan (at Charlie James Gallery through May 13th) tackles a similar topic in one of the four series that she exhibits. Perhaps, with Earth Day just behind us, there is a theme here.
The Brand’s show is powerful and evocative. Participating artists include Jacqueline Bell Johnson, Anita Bunn, Chelsea Dean, Jennifer Gunlock, Jenene Nagy, Michelle Robinson and Sinziana Velicescu.
Anita Bunn depicts trees under night skies. The trees take on a life of their own, as if they come alive at night. There is a surreal and graceful quality to Bunn’s work that engages the viewer and calls for a second-look at her images, which in many cases pull viewers into a world in which the trees are talking to us, expressing their mute, rooted, but nonetheless emotional take on the world.
Photography is also the oeuvre of Sinziana Velicescu. In these works the artist and filmmaker examines architectural forms in the Los Angeles area, specifically the most mundane of 60s-era styles, the somewhat benign offspring of Brutalist architectural style. Using these plain facades and the bleaching of California sunshine, her shadows take forms. In a way, her work is the distaff version of Bunn’s night sky trees: drenched in sunlight, nature is a simple thing contrasting with the harsh forms of buildings. It is a shadow creature, or a palm frond. The photographs remind the viewer of stills from a film – perhaps by Antonioni.
Merging collage with photography, Chelsea Dean reassembles images of desert landscapes with hand-cut photographs on wood. It is as if the heat-blanched desert and the abandoned ruins of civilization were brought full force into the gallery. “Haunt a Distant Corner,” created with contact paper, gold foil, a hand-cut photograph, and foam core – is a wall sculpture of a desert shack, a 3-D window into the world of sun, heat, sand, and broken dreams.
Also working in collage and drawing, is artist Jennifer Gunlock. Here the viewer sees man-made structures and nature’s forms conjoined with new life forms filled with a strange light and movement. A perfect example is the artist’s “Habitat,” a collage and drawing that is as faceted as a diamond. These are trees as giants, robots as trees – a fascinating look at nature and man’s mutation of it.
Jackie Bell Johnson takes on sculptural forms that look like nature has taken over the earth and subliminated whatever man has made, absorbing it perhaps. These installation pieces are lushly complex, cat’s cradles of tree branches and yarn. Her “Beauty is the Beast” could be an enormous and perhaps man-devouring flower at first glance, but the artist has described it as a “vagina dentata,” a different kind of flower.
Michelle Robinson’s mixed media is highly tactile. Focusing on the Los Angeles river as her subject, she creates images that seem washed and faded, shaped by water or the imagining of it.
Jenene Nagy, working with linen, burlap, and latex, keeps forms simple, creating abstract yet natural shapes that draw the viewer into an almost zen-like contemplation of their meaning.
Taken collectively, Man Made is as an experience of natural wonder, the intrusion of the human form on nature and of nature’s overwhelming impression on the works of man – or in this case, of woman. A provocative and profound show.
The Brand Library and Art Center is located at 1601 W. Mountain in Glendale.