Misled by Nature: Who’s Really In Charge Here?

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Lee Bul, After Bruno Taut (Negative Capability) [2008], crystal, glass, and acrylic beads on stainless steel armature with aluminum and copper mesh, with chains made of PVC, steel, and aluminum, 274.3 x 296.4 x 213.4 cm. NGC

If Nature has a message for us, artist Tricia Middleton is convinced it is this: you and I are not the greater force.

“Humans have this stupid idea that we’re in charge, and that we’re destroying Nature. I don’t think that is the case. We’re ruining our own habitat, and eventually Nature will take it back,” she says.

Middleton kept that notion uppermost while creating Embracing ruin and oblivion is the only way to live now. The piece was commissioned for the exhibition, Misled by Nature: Contemporary Art and the Baroque, currently showing at the Art Gallery of Alberta and organized in collaboration with the National Gallery of Canada.

She says that her mixed-media sculpture is “like an ice-capped structure that in some ways resembles the spires of a church—like Sacré-Coeur in Paris, which has those very blank, empty voids at the top of it. They’re like these tall narrow domes, but when you go inside, it’s totally empty space. Then, when I look at the piece, I feel a bit that it looks like an animal corpse with bones and the body disintegrating around the bones. It’s like an ancient kind of form—something both prehistoric and futuristic.”

The other sculptures in this show are from the National Gallery’s permanent collection of internationally acclaimed artists: David Altmejd, Lee Bul, Bharti Kher, Yinka Shonibare MBE, and Sarah Sze. The result is an exhibition that is equal parts whimsical, freakish, and surprisingly beautiful.

The title is drawn from a comment by art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann, who  once criticized seventeenth-century Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini as having been “misled by nature” in his exuberant and ornate Baroque sculptures.

“The word Baroque originally had a negative connotation,” co-curator Josée Drouin-Brisebois said during a preview of the show. “Baroque was seen as having knowingly distorted the sacred norms of classical design, based on the rules of the ancient Greeks and Romans. It was also considered an art that catered exclusively to the senses, rather than to the cerebral and to ideas.”

The show makes for a compelling study in excess, decay and detritus. “I was interested in creating something that had a futuristic sensibility, says Middleton, “but that also drew on the past while referencing abandoned space that had been left to the elements and to time—like the build-up of wax. There is evidence of decay in the work. It talks about mortality, because there is this abandoned space. It does conjure this idea of an end, which maybe we’d like to avoid.”

Misled by Nature will be showing at the Art Gallery of Alberta until mid-January 2013. It re-opens in the summer of 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto.


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