Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Hotbed of Curious Horticulture

A Hotbed of Curious Horticulture
By Tom Wachunas

    “Gardening is not a rational act.”  -Margaret Atwood-

    “A good garden may have some weeds.”  -Thomas Fuller –

    “…The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden.”  -Thomas More -

    EXHIBITION: Impossible Gardens, curated by Scott Alan Evans, at Translations Art Gallery, THROUGH APRIL 27. Participating artists: Kevin Anderson, John Boyett, Steve Ehret, Scott Alan Evans, Annette Yoho Feltes, Jonah Jacobs, Bili Kribbs, Joe Martino, David McDowell, Erin T. Mulligan, Linda Alexander-Radak, Betsy Cavalier, Amy Mothersbaugh (with John E. Crimes) and Emily Speelman. 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours are Wednesdays Noon to 9p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays Noon to 5p.m.

    Walking through botanical biomorphs, ghoulish greenery, phantasmagorical flora… Call it what you will, viewing the collaborative installations that comprise Impossible Gardens is anything but an idyllic walk among quotidian flower beds. These elaborate, otherworldly (if not apocalyptic) works are eerie hybrids of strange sculptures and expansive, boldly colored murals – a collective paroxysm of pure fantasy.

   We begin our tour by stepping on to a wooden footbridge that spans The Dead Marshes, by Betsy Cavalier, Steve Ehret, John Boyett, Joe Martino, and Annette Yoho Feltes. It’s an intricate and vivid environment, teeming with odd creatures and amorphous growths. Looking down, our gaze is met by faces of floating dead folks in Martino’s stunning pond painting, and Feltes has provided a haunting, toothy Gollum (a.k.a. Smeagol, from The Lord of the Rings) sculpture, waiting perhaps to lead us further into uncertain territory ahead.

   Next is the spectacular Alien Desert, with sculpture by Jonah Jacobs and a vibrant landscape mural by Bili Kribbs. Jacobs’ upright forms are akin to stalagmites, rising from green and sandy ground, with their bases encircled by truncated cylindrical “growths.” Their intense orange color is a dramatic counterpoint to Kribbs’ lush green leafy shapes that recede into distant mountains.

   Further into the gallery are two compelling and ambitious works that push the idea of ‘garden’ into more cerebral and/or abstract realms. David McDowell’s Neuron Garden expands the shapes of brain neurons into enormous tendrilled blossoms, their centers made of illuminated, brilliantly colored glass. And Betsy Cavalier’s delightfully sprawling concoction of clustered bulbous forms - made from stuffed panty hose, weather balloon latex, insulating foam and found objects – is an appreciation of the garden as a multiplicity of interconnected organic systems.  
    At the very end of our scintillating stroll through other bizarre passages, there’s the appropriately titled Rear Garden, featuring the contributions of Steve Ehret, Bili Kribbs, and David McDowell. Ehret’s wonderfully cartoonish mural of a monstrous bacterium (or mutated vegetable?) might be a caveat, as if to say fecundity is a fragile, corruptible state.

    The work also reminds me that this exhibit isn’t a literal look at fertile gardens so much as it is an allegory of very fertile imaginations. In that spirit, I imagine that these jarring apparitions could be faithful representations of verdant plots located somewhere in the infinite reaches of our uncharted universe. Springtime visions that Smeagol would find particularly… precious.

    PHOTOS (from top): Rear Garden, by Steve Ehret, Bili Kribbs, and David McDowell; The Dead Marshes (detail), by Betsy Cavalier, Steve Ehret, John Boyett, Joe Martino, and Annette Yoho Feltes; Neuron Garden, by David McDowell; Alien Desert, by Jonah Jacobs and Bili Kribbs.

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