Fauna of Mirrors Reflects a Nuanced Approach to Nature

Fauna of Mirrors, a site-responsive exhibition curated by Etty Yaniv currently on view at the LIU Downtown Brooklyn campus, opened to the public on March 14, 2019 and remains on view through May 17th. The enticing exhibition features works by Charlotte Becket, Samuelle Green, Tamara Kostianovsky, Jessica Lagunas, Christina Massey, Lina Puerta, and Kathleen Vance. These works are housed in a glass enclosure on the LIU campus. Referencing Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, this contemporary Fauna of Mirrors refers to Borges’ proposed “land beyond mirrors” which hosts strange, unknown creatures, a phantasmagoria which is reflected in the incredible images aggregated through illusionary reflections spilling across the glass surfaces.

Installation view, Fauna of Mirrors at Long Island University’s downtown Brooklyn campus (image courtesy Etty Yaniv)

Multi-dimensional reflections on the Anthropocene and humanity’s relationship with nature provide real-time reflections in the changing daylight onsite at Fauna of Mirrors. A triumph in adapting the Japanese viewing garden’s prized technique of miegakure (“hide and reveal”), the exhibit creates dialogues across the space lying between the various installations, sculptures and kinetic artworks on view. A pulsing, breathing form in its own right, Fauna of Mirrors creates a visual orchestral crescendo at Long Island University’s downtown Brooklyn campus. Readily experienced, yet cordoned off from the public, the forms create an artistic menagerie that creates a lingering impression – whether you gaze upon it for five seconds or five hours something new is revealed with every visit. Emphasizing both the verticality and the rounded curvature of this specific space, Fauna of Mirrors combines works by compelling contemporary artists into a lush representation of the interstices linking nature and artifice.

Suspended sculptures by Tamara Kostianovsky welcome visitors to the exhibit while alluding to sacrifice and consumption. Meat hooks hold up splayed, feathered creatures resembling dead birds – which upon further inspection, are actually created from a composite of different fabrics. Kostianovksy captures the poetic grace of these forms, recreating the exact curve of each bird feather with care and immaculate attention to detail. The figures are artificial recreations of natural forms, exacting the toll that our civilization can exact on our avian brethren.

Sculptures by Tamara Kostianovsky in Fauna of Mirrors (image courtesy Etty Yaniv)

Just beyond this sobering installation, the exhibit unfolds in its entirety before the viewer. Works are discernible by Charlotte Becket, Samuelle Green, Kathleen Vance, Christina Massey, and Lina Puerta. Immediately following the line of sight around the left curvature of the gallery, Lina Puerta’s artwork is a visible juxtaposition of sign and signifier. Puerta evinces her contemplative skill with metal built over a period of time as a Kohler artist in residence. The impressions of natural objects are visible in pieces of iron, carefully arranged around what appears to be a tree branch, but is actually a branch cast in iron itself. Puerta notes the combination of ephemeral and eternal provided inspiration for her work “Untitled” (branch on tiles)(2015). “During a 2015 residency at Kohler, in their factory’s foundry, I had the great opportunity to create iron casts of about anything I wanted,” reflects Puerta.  “The Large branch is a cast of an actual fallen branch that had begun to rot, found near the house were I stayed during the residency (Sheboygan, WI). I loved the idea of suspending in time something so fragile, that was dead, yet actively in transformation, as it decomposed. I was excited to cast such a delicate, life and death process into a strong, almost unbreakable material, as iron.”

Visible just beyond Puerta’s work is Kathleen Vance’s “Displaced Riverbed” (2019). A suspended riverbed in miniature, the man-made and natural collide in Vance’s artistic vision. “In order to simulate the natural, I use materials as close in texture and color as would be found in nature, often mixing natural with artificial materials to generate a feel of the “real”.  In this piece, I have sculpted the riverbed and incorporated collected soil and detritus from forest walks.  This piece is meant to be perceived as a riverbed scooped out of a natural environment, suspended in time and space.”

“I would like for visitors to consider their personal environment and seek out local access points to nature, such as parks and nature preserves,” reflects Vance.  “In presenting a single section of a river, removed from its course, I am giving just a piece that cannot function without its whole.  To experience that, you must go to the source.” Poignant and captivating in its attention to detail and alluring materiality, Vance represents our captivation with the aesthetics of the natural world.

Samuelle Green’s “Bloom 1″(2019) encircles a pillar anchoring the space, rising up around this building feature like a bush in bloom or a colony of mushrooms. Green takes into consideration the various viewpoints of the built environment, subversively reclaiming aspects of the man-made back into the natural environment. Carefully responding to the curvature of the space, Green dexterously re-purposes found paper to craft her intricate, geometrical compositions, her installation leading into a small cluster of mixed media sculptures by artist Christina Massey.

Massey’s assorted sculptures combine textures in her works, juxtaposing glass and metal in sharp angles and elusive curves. “I love having multiple complex textures and materials in a piece, there’s a challenge there that I love so much in the artistic process so make these seemingly odd materials work together.” Massey continues to expand particularly on her use of glass, an ancient process capturing various elements of nature into a refined practice spanning centuries of artistic creation. “This particular work was funded in part by a grant from the Brooklyn Arts Fund that was specifically granted for me to pursue creating new work using experimental glass blowing techniques, so each piece has some glass in it along with a combination of metals, wire, fencing and paint.” In addition to this rapt attention to form, Massey also created an installation built of carefully conceived forms ready to display across the verticality of the space. “This is such a unique space, so you had to think about not only what the options for hanging work were…but the proximity to the glass and columns, too. For me, the work is modular which allowed me a little room to play once in the space and react to how other work was installed.”

Side view, Fauna of Mirrors (image courtesy Etty Yaniv)

Absorbing light in a dark silhouette shifting through space and whirring ominously, Charlotte Becket’s “La Mancha Negra 4″(2019) follows a peculiar choreography, shifting around the gallery floor. Formed of various industrial materials, Becket’s kinetic sculpture confounds the viewer. Unsettling yet awe-inspiring, the sheer scale of the sculpture absorbs the visitor’s fully attention. Encountering Becket’s barely-defined form as it lurks and pushes through its immediate environment, the internal logic of the figure remains a captivating mystery. The parallels between this menacing figure’s indiscernible actions and our own inane choices to continue with environmental destruction are only hinted at as the viewer is encouraged to relate to the figure and the environment, and our choices in relation to it, on their own terms.

Finally, near the entryway to the building itself lie detailed, tactile pieces by Jessica Lagunas and Lina Puerta. Mementos of our natural world, leaves form delicate books and canvases for words and markings that prove to be enticing to the touch. Protected in these enclosed vitrines, Lagunas’ poetic ability to capture the lyrical beauty of natural outlines of leaves and other ephemera displays an intimacy with these fragile natural materials that proves to be both captivating and immensely rewarding for the viewer. Juxtaposed against the enduring iron impressions of natural objects by Puerta displayed in the same cases, the overall effect is a reminder of the beauty and frailty of our natural environment.

Works by Jessica Lagunas for Fauna of Mirrors (image courtesy the author)

The poetry of Yaniv’s powerfully curated Fauna of Mirrors proves to be an elegiac, yet lively, living documentation of the underlying forces that both unite and divide us as a species from the Earth that both sustains us and relies on our decisions. A reckoning displayed in a carefully defined space, this alternate view of the world we create and the natural ephemera we observe proves to be a whimsical mirror that holds lessons for us all.

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