Out of the Woods, Installation view: Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, 2010
Courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects
Out of the Woods
curated by James Salomon
Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects
535 West 22nd Street
New York, NY
January 30 through March 6, 2010
Landscape occupies a revered position within the visual arts and literature. The forest has always intrigued us, beckoning us with its wildness and presenting itself as a refuge and release from the civilized world. Thoreau said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I have not lived.” Out of the Woods brings together a series of works from the 1960’s to the present that explore the lure of the wild and our relationship to the primeval forest.
Tokihiro Sato’s #349 Kashimagawa (1998) a black and white photograph printed on transparent film over a light panel, evokes the call of the wild. A trail of light spots, appearing like the breadcrumbs of Hansel and Gretel, lead us into the unknown darkness of the forest. Beautifully illuminated, the path is irresistible, and though irreconcilable with what we know is sensible and responsible, we are willing and eager to venture into the unknown. The physical sensation of light that occurs in Sato’s photograph is echoed in Adam Fuss’ photogram Untitled (1998), which addresses the alchemical sensibilities of both the photographic process and nature itself. Printed by placing mushroom spores in direct contact with photographic paper, the work evokes the transformative power of the natural world.
Roxy Paine’s small steel sculpture of a broken tree, Model for Fallen Tree (2005) shifts direction, addressing how mankind's inhabitation has altered the appearance of the landscape. Snapped in half, but still connected, Paine’s tree is constructed not from natural materials but from those of modern day industry, evoking a rationalized, industrialized view of nature. Yet despite the coldness of the steel, the work is seductive, tapping into the notion that perhaps today the wilderness is more than a fixed place, but rather a state of mind. Lawrence Weiner’s vinyled text piece STRIPPED BARK (1991) uses language to address the impact that the post-industrial revolution has had on our understanding of landscape and its representation. The empty parentheses below the text STRIPPED BARK are a reminder of what we will be left with if we continue to strip our natural surroundings bare.
Surreal color photographs by Justine Kurland and Ryan McGinley tap into the underlying idiom of the exhibition title. Their photographs depict the presence of human beings surrounded by impenetrable forest and address being “out of the woods” in the context of recovery, or safety after a dangerous experience. The naked bodies suspended in McGinley’s Tree #3 (2008) are vulnerable, exposed, and fragile when compared to the magnitude of the encompassing tree. The photograph reminds us that despite its lure, the woods can be a treacherous place for those who cannot, in fact, find their way out.
Out of the Woods is filled with small, subtle works that demand time and reflection. These stand in contrast to Michael Combs’ large-scale piece The Wish (2008). Consisting of a life-sized leather deer hanging from a noose in an ornamental cage, The Wish alludes to a mythical tale of an elusive albino buck that roams the woods at night. The introduction of man vs. animal and hunter vs. hunted imparts a powerfully felt and thematically disctinct dimension to the exhibition. Combs’ sculpture speaks more about seduction, fetish, and the act of collecting trophies rather than directly addressing the lure of landscape in which hunting takes place. As such it presents an uncomfortable juxtaposition that highlights perversions humanity has projected onto the wilderness in exchange for its having seduced us.
Courtenay Finn, currently works as the Programs Administrator at the Lower East Side Printshop, a printmaking studio and residency program in New York. She has a MA in Curatorial Practice from The California College of the Arts in San Francisco, California and a BFA in Fiber and Material Studies from The Cleveland Institute of Art in Cleveland, Ohio.view all articles from this author