Second installment on what Meddling with Nature is all about
I work with the things that people pass by every day with a sense of disgust. A cat on Elm Street, or a Coyote on interstate 275. These dynamic, intricate, self-contained worlds release their hold on autonomy at death to become a part of the natural cycle again. This happens whether I find them or not. The difference is in the suspension of decay. I reclaim what is meant for the ground so that it may yet serve some purpose to us. I am constantly reminded of the final inscription in the crypt of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, an underground series of chapels in Rome augmented with the remains of 4000 monks. A group of skeletons invites viewers to a sign that reads; “What you are now, we once were, what we are now, you will be.” This had a really intense impact on me. I came to realize that the art I was producing at the time could never have the kind of influence on others that I had received so dramatically. I shuffled away in awe and silence, somewhat lost as to how my art could ever achieve a comparison to that.
Reeling from this discovery, I ventured further to Florence where I encountered the Museo della Specola. A natural history museum that houses the celebrated anatomical waxes of Clemente Susini who had a workshop there in 1773. Though I was there for the models, the taxidermy began to sing to me in an equally provocative way. Taxidermy and preservation made complete sense as a byproduct of the study of life through dissection. It was here in that moment that my voice was found, it’s a privilege that many artists never experience. I changed my outlook, and I took it into a modern context.The overarching goal for my work (and play) is the condensation, dissemination, and sometimes repackaging of Conservationist and Naturalist philosophies.
In all of my visual art I am imparting messages to the dead to inform the living. Its about the degree of message control and human influence that varies depending on the intended interpretation, from anthropomorphism to careful and exact specimen preservation and restoration.
In truth, a Coyote doesn’t care what you think about its life, death, or anything in between. The message is something that I breath into the dead. Is it “meddling with nature?” Of course it is, but I try to ensure that this improves the quality of life, by encouraging an appreciation for it in all forms; from bacteria to peacocks and humans. I work with material from the natural world, OUR world. Sometimes it just takes a small dose of the “civilized” to make it pertinent again. Other times a full banquette of alteration adds a better punctuation.
If I can find a way to take the viewer on a journey that starts at the uncomfortable and ends at a destination of illumination similar to what I saw underground in Rome, then I have done my job properly. The stakes are high and complicated. We cannot be content to enjoy simply the majesty of the topical natural world categorically. We must continue to explore Nature by reaffirming our place within it, not as stewards, victims, or conquerors, but as humble yet remarkably powerful members within the boundary of one tiny speck of dust we call Earth.
Life is precious. Life is the universe animated by consciousness. It is rare, and yet common. Its mass and energy potential is tiny in the scope of the cosmos, but it is magnanimous and seemingly impossible compared to even the most powerful displays the universe has to offer because of its ability to choose.
So yes, a squirrel hiding a nut is on the same playing field as an Einstein explaining the mechanics of the natural world. This is not to diminish Einstein, but to raise up the squirrel.