Philadelphia Art Alliance Blog

A Curious Nature at the Art Alliance – October 6 through December 4, 2016

This fall, some curious creatures are coming to the Art Alliance. Opening October 6, A Curious Nature brings together the work of Linda Cordell, Tasha Lewis, Caitlin McCormack, and Emily White. Using a diverse range of media, these artists explore our relationship with nature through the lens of the animal kingdom. Whether real or imaginary, wild or domestic, animals have long been defined by their interactions with humans, which shape everything from their physical habitats to their symbolic cultural meanings. Together, the artists of A Curious Nature probe the human/animal dichotomy, troubling the traditional anthropocentric understanding of animals that values them solely for their usefulness to people. In the galleries of the PAA, the creatures of A Curious Nature will talk amongst themselves, creating a conversation that spans species and artistic media. If we look and listen closely, we just might learn to appreciate animals in new ways.

Emily White, "American Bison," 2011.

Emily White, “American Bison,” 2011.

Downstairs, sculptor Emily White’s work confronts us with the darker side of human intervention in the natural world: extinction. A monumental bison made of wood and fiber in the central gallery stands in harsh juxtaposition to the fine woodwork and plaster of the Wetherill Mansion, a reminder that the mansion was being built in the early twentieth century, when American bison were being slaughtered in huge numbers. On the ceiling, a flock of now extinct carrier pigeons are frozen in flight. In the front gallery, White’s textile cowhides cleverly play with the craft tradition of quilting and the practice of skinning animals. Moreover, her quilted hides look almost pixellated, drawing attention to the dichotomy of the digital versus the handmade.

Upstairs, Linda Cordell, Caitlin McCormack, and Tasha Lewis explore similar themes on a somewhat smaller scale. Cordell’s unorthodox porcelain figurines present domestic animals like dogs not as sweet and harmless ornaments to the home, but rather as oozing, organic, and strangely threatening creatures that seem ill at ease in a domestic setting. Her porcelain animals bleed, drool, and decay, pushing the boundaries of her ceramic medium and suggesting the negative, distorting effects of domestication upon animals’ bodies. Nearby, McCormack’s crocheted imaginary animal skeletons look like miniature Jabberwockies, fanciful creations that would be at home in any Lewis Carroll tale. Playfully juxtaposing traditions of taxidermy and crochet, McCormack suggests the limitations of our attempts to understand animals through practices like dissection. Finally, Tasha Lewis’s textile installations of butterflies, bones, and other wildlife likewise reference scientific practices that structure our relationship with animals, such as taxidermy, photography, and museum display. Her fragmentary animal bodies look as though they are emerging out of the wall, giving them an uncanny, lifelike quality.

Over the coming weeks, we will be following the artists as they install their work. In the next four posts, we will share our discussions with the artists, as well as our own reflections about the work in A Curious Nature. Stay tuned!

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