Paradise Lost

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Posted December 17, 2009 in Arts & Culture

Environment has always played a crucial role in the world of an artist—if not directly represented in a work as landscape or dwelling, then always as a filter through which any emotional representation is seen and felt. Such artistic resonances take on many forms and themes, and when that environment is in chaos, the depictions become more fantastical and heated. Such is the case with the Riverside Art Museum’s newest show, “Edenistic Divergence,” guest curated by Andi Campognone through her curatorial service, AC Projects.

Culling some of the most breathtaking and outwardly chaotic interior landscapes from artists Lisa Adams, Rebecca Niederlander, Kimber Berry and Hollis Cooper, Campognone has put together an awe-inspiring show that depicts not only our divergence from a fabled Eden of perfection, but a recreation of that utopia in relationship to outside modern forces—most specifically, as mentioned in the show’s statement, of “pollution, global warming and genetic tinkering.”

Adams’ work makes an instantly recognizable connection to these powers. Her large oil on panel pieces of landscapes are our trodden grounds—surreal lands with birds and trees, fish and flora. But the beauty of these offspring of nature is capsized by the fact that they are floating on an Earth in upheaval. In Convocation, for example, delicate yellow birds perch high on gnarled branches of a tree submerged in water and tar-like runoff from a serenely smoking volcano in the background. The sky is blue and the water (perhaps from glacial meltdown?) lovingly reflects a truth—one that has been ushered in by destruction. In Given That All Things are Equal, there isn’t even a volcano—just water—but nothing is actually in that water. Instead, images of birds and a flower float above it. Even a ghostly fish and, ironically, a water lily, won’t be tempted by the darkened sea and are instead suspended in the air.

Sculptor Rebecca Niederlander offers up a vision of environmental overgrowth that might be expected in some future Eden when the earth returns to its natural form. In There is a Nova in the Bed Next to Mine, cascades of vellum paper blossoms pour down from the sky creating a jungle of purity that eventually empties into a pool of soft, white petals. It is melting and recycling without destruction. The motif is continued in A Certain Amount of Narcissism is a Good Thing, a mobile maze of white, pink and blue electrical wires turned into whirling dervishes of energy and motion—much like the tempests we both create and fear.

This subtlety is exploded, however, by Kimber Berry’s monumental Liquid Landscape Environment—an astonishingly detailed metamorphosis of combustion and expansion that sprays up the gallery walls and then bubbles back down them, meandering into corners and filling them with electrified colors from across the spectrum. Utilizing acrylics on PVC and vinyl to create this primordial celebration of purple waves crashing and twisting greens creeping, Berry has outdone herself with this organic, other-worldly experience.

Transmuting this wild abandon into a more fixed, yet no less exciting form, Hollis Cooper’s installation, Proteus, continues the colorful ride into what appear to be cities of the cosmos—structures that are recognizable as skyscrapers of a metropolis, but that are clearly located in another dimension, perhaps, even, in a more perfect parallel world of our own. Shooting across the back walls of the gallery, the neon buildings jut into spikes and suddenly roll down into loops and curves, sending us careening up and then blasting down a warping boulevard at sonic speed. It is a world where architecture is not hindered by gravity or zoning, and the pure beauty of structure can be imagined as if nature herself had designed it—a fitting end-piece to this visionary exhibit that pays tribute to man, and his undoing.

“Edenistic Divergence” at the Riverside Art Museum, 3425 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, (951) 684-7111; www.riversideartmuseum.org. Open Mon-Sat, 10AM–4PM. $2-$5. Thru Feb. 20.


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