Second Nature 

Sundance and the Utah Arts Council bring an EnvironMENTAL effort to Salt Lake City.

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Though it is unfortunate, you might say it’s strangely fitting. The EnvironMENTAL exhibit at Art Access, like many natural phenomena, didn’t have the most seemly of circumstances behind its parentage. The previously scheduled show—Fletcher Booth, Puny—was removed by mutual agreement because its openly sexual content was deemed inappropriate for a venue that receives government funding. Days before the opening, Utah Arts Council Executive Director Frank McEntire was called to see if he could find a substitute, and he responded with works that look at nature with a deeper than usual focus.


The exhibit had already been shown this April at Sundance. “We had been talking with Sundance about cultural opportunities as of last winter and early this year,” McEntire explains. Sundance Executive Director Ray Grant and McEntire discussed ways the Arts Council and Sundance—which is also cosponsoring the Art Access show—might partner. “Sundance was looking for good artists to feature in its screening room, and I suggested the theme would complement Sundance’s mission. ...We wanted artists who looked at nature not just as a landscape, but from an intellectual framework,” McEntire comments.


Of all the works, only Doug Snow’s paintings resemble a traditional landscape, but they are still abstract, the physicality of the environment rendered cloudlike and fluid. Joseph Ostraff’s oils are based on a trip to Snow Canyon, near St. George. His “Sunrise Over Natural Resources” creates the effect of a topographical map with geometric lines and wide washes of color. Jean Arnold’s work deals with the urban landscape in motion. Her mixed media work “Journey to the Vista” is on two panels, as though bisected by windows. The large scale evokes broad perspectives.


Although all the artists are local, there is an international flavor. JinMan Jo, originally from South Korea, evokes the violence of a harsh industrial landscape in sculptures littered with nails and metal fragments. This exhibit wouldn’t be complete without the work of German-born Wulf Barsch. To make up for only having one painting in the exhibit, his has the longest title: “For the Moon Is My Brother and the Morning Star Is My Offspring.” Barsch is the only one to deal directly with the metaphysical aspect of nature, and our earth’s place in the cosmos; the moon in all its phases charts a path across a nighttime sky, and could be an illustration for a Rilke poem. Czech Republic-born Lenka Konopasek’s mixed-media boxes, with their maps and human figures, demonstrate the impact of politics and war on the landscape. “The map is not the terrain” may be a cliché, but she always shows how the map influences the way we think about the terrain.


Jane Catlin’s drawings on paper, meanwhile, look at nature at the microbial level: the lens of a scientist, and the perspective of a poet. “Circulation” and “Transpose” depict the fragility of the environment at the level where changes to it are the most dramatic. “Catlin is concerned about the degradation of the environment, as opposed to Ostroff and Snow, who depict its power,” observes McEntire.


Brian Christensen’s sculptures were selected as a representation of the harshness of the world we walk in, its desolation and dryness, says McEntire. Their blunt texture resembles a cross-section of geological levels of the earth, unseen to those of us who dwell almost entirely upon its skin. The title of “Duplicitous Landscape,” however, reminds us that we can’t always rely on what is purely visible.


Sundance’s Grant—whose previous position was as Director of the Cultural Olympiad art exhibits in conjunction with the 2002 Winter Olympics—loves what has come of the collaboration with the Arts Council. Sundance has long had a reputation of bringing together art and nature, and when McEntire approached him about cosponsoring the exhibit, it seemed like a perfect match. “I feel we used it to tease out ideas from the artists about the environment,” he remarks. “I’d like to explore it on an ongoing basis.”


EnvironMENTALArt Access 339 W. Pierpont, Through Oct. 8 328-0703

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