Forest Bathing at Launch LA
By Betty Ann Brown
On view through September 30th
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
Henry David Thoreau asserted that, “We need the tonic of wilderness…We can never have enough of nature.” (Walden, 1854) Both Einstein and Muir seem to agree. Indeed, the Japanese practice of Forest Bathing–shinrin-yoku, simply being in the presence of trees–has been shown to have multiple health benefits (lowered blood pressure, boosted immune system, etc.) But today, as we watch the horrific damage done by this season’s tropical storms, nature seems more a threat than a comfort.
How can visual artists address these profoundly different–actually, conflicted–views of our natural world? Artist, writer, and arts administrator Kristine Schomaker has assembled a remarkably diverse group of LA artists who address this question in a wide range of media and from a wide range of perspectives. Thirteen artists are in Schomaker’s “Reality of Nature” exhibition at Launch LA: Terry Arena, Andrea Bersaglieri, Jeanne Dunn, Samantha Fields, Jennifer Gunlock, Virginia Katz, JJ L’Heureux, Erika Lizée, Constance Mallinson, Catherine Ruane, Steve Seleska, Marie Thibeault, and Devon Tsuno.
Many of the works are quite beautiful, reminding us of the “tonic of wilderness” discussed by Thoreau. Ruane’s exquisitely rendered drawing of a single Joshua Tree draped down the gallery wall and Erika Lizee’s undulating installation of surreal plants are two examples of artists embracing the loveliness of our natural world. Virginia Katz’s sculpted paintings mimic topographical maps, with rivers flowing through mountainous landscapes. Andrea Bersaglieri–who reminds us that we have a “predetermined aesthetic preference for nature”–limns the fragile weeds and grasses that struggle to survive in our urban environment. Jeanne Dunn’s painted “portraits” of trees transform them into powerful totemic figures.
In contrast, JJ L’Heureux’s photographs of sky-blue coastlines in Antarctica–however aesthetically appealing–remind us that the glaciers of the North and South Poles are disappearing rapidly. Terry Arena’s meticulous graphite drawings of bees warn us of their imminent demise. Steve Seleska’s silvery Landescapism #7, though quite handsome, recalls the eternal pollution wrought by aluminum foil. And Constance Mallinson’s three paintings in the exhibit all depict industrial detritus scattered over forest floors, with toys and packaging and abandoned trash desecrating nature’s timbered chapel.
Not all of the artists address nature in a direct fashion. Marie Thibeault’s paintings are dynamic abstractions that allude to trees, plants, and skies. Devon Tsuno’s collages similarly employ abstraction to relate to natural phenomena, with cut paper pieces echoing the reflections of sun on the Los Angeles River. Jennifer Gunlock’s hanging Landmark presents architectural scaffolding that climbs through the natural world and intersects with roots, branches and other biomorphic forms. And Samantha Field’s diptych pairs an airliner zooming through the blue sky with a gorgeous depiction of deep space. The pairing reminds us that we are constantly violating the cosmos with our ever-increasing technologies.
The dualist thought of Western culture opposes nature and culture, privileging culture and devaluing nature. (The ongoing conflict between business and the environment is one outcome of such thinking.) If we are to survive as a species, we must jettison such dualism and embrace our oneness with nature. The artists of Kristine Schomaker’s superbly curated exhibition remind us of the desperate need to do so.