N4TUR3 essay

(above, from Tiger Strikes Asteroid's Facebook page; l to r: Thomas Vance, Misako Inaoka, Regin Igloria)

Here for interested parties, is an essay I wrote to accompany my gallery's latest exhibit, N4TUR3. To see images from the exhibit, go to www.tigerstrikesasteroid.com, or come see the exhibit up through June 26th.

N4TUR3 essay

Sometimes, nature is considered a mirror for humans; a place to see ourselves reflected – for better or for worse. In N4TUR3, this creates a visual paradox: we are both nowhere and everywhere in these works.

David Guinn’s Snowy Owl is a quiet avian portrait, but in the background snowpack we see the path of a recently-passed – but now disappeared – human. In Igloria’s Entanglement in Orange the human presence is clearly expressed in the manufactured product of a fluorescent-orange snow fence, holding a mass of foliage in a deathly embrace. The fence, an epitome of uniformity, is blaringly obvious in that un-natural state, but there is no other evidence of the humans that have made, and left, it. It is simply carrying out its naïve fate like a wind-up toy left to its own devices. And for Beth Brandon, the absentee human leaves behind an even more dynamic effect. In her two drawings, there is a before-and-after pattern of fire and smoke, but still no human (who we may assume has cut down the trees and struck the match).

Thomas Vance’s Cornice involves a more snarled evidence of this dubious human influence. Not simply a mostly-unaltered landscape on which human touch has left an obvious mark, such as in Snowy Owl, it is unclear from which direction Cornice has come from, or is going. In other words, is this an object which has been constructed to mimic nature? Or was it once a tree (Cornus, after all, is the Latin name for the dogwood family) but has now metamorphosed into a idealized tree-form; simply a product made from it’s model’s material, much like those toilet-paper roll trees from elementary school. While most of the other works are either on one side or the other of nature or artifice, Cornice is on the fence. Indeed, it is the fence for this N4TUR3.

Cornice embodies the question, and becomes the possible answer for the issues raised in N4TUR3: no matter its source or direction, a certain beauty is reached. In fact, in all these pieces, the results of human touch, whether the intent was good or bad, is always beautiful. Entanglement in Orange; Red Berries/Red Bird; The Need-Fire: every one is twisted, but twisted into beauty. Therein lies the possible answer, pointed out to us by art, but it should not distract us from the question, which will keep reappearing as long as we fiddle with nature the way we tend to: gene splicing; bio-engineering; rampant resource exploitation; drilling and scraping and poking. What we forget at our peril is that whatever we do to nature, we do to ourselves. The mirror always tells the truth.

- P. Timothy Gierschick II


Picnic Table Naturalist, Page 3: Aliens

(above) My favorite alien: Verbascum Thapsus (Great Mullein)

Picnic Table Naturalist, June 8, 2009 – Aliens

A perennial North American political debate is border security, along with illegal aliens and all other economic and social issues loosely connected to it. The latest dispute was during the recent presidential debates, but it has since fizzled out, forgotten by everyone save a small constituency nearest to Canada and Mexico.

But, what about border security in the natural world? Ever since there’s been international travel and commerce (commencing seriously with colonial Philadelphia’s itinerant Bartram family) there has come with it the travel (accidental and intentional; beneficial and detrimental) of non-native plant species. In the last few decades, there have been realizations made and initiatives taken towards the identification of “invasive” species, but this term applies to a minority within the hoarier definition of “alien” species; several of which are cherished plants. Two prominent eastern-Pennsylvania examples of the former are purple loosestrife and Norway maple. However, there are many examples of the latter “alien” species. Visit and look carefully in any suburban forest or meadow plot, and you will quickly encounter numerous species which are officially alien (or non-native) to your area (Peterson’s A Field Guide to Wildflowers or other nature guide will help you make the distinction). Some quick examples (seen around my picnic table as I write) are garlic mustard, Norway maple, Vinca vine (aka periwinkle), and English ivy. Some meadow (and lawn!) examples are the marsh marigold, white clover, dog violets, great mullein, and crown vetch.

A sub-group of these “alien” plants are those introduced deliberately for specific purposes; even as international goodwill tokens, which eventually became warnings against naïve botany. Some examples here: kudzu (otherwise known as “the vine which ate the South”), promoted as forage and an ornamental by the Japanese government, and crown vetch, propagated by the Pennsylvania DOT as an effective erosion preventative along highways. Still other examples are multi-flora roses and Osage orange trees, both touted heavily to farmers during the last century as vigorous and effective (there’s that word again!) windrows. Neither is planted much as windrows anymore, and both, particularly the rose, have become nuisances which can choke out other native plants (often ill-equipped to deal with botanical aggression on their home turf).

Now, to entertain a botanical connection to a political issue: what about the illegal alien problem? There have been and continue to be many solutions posited, but one which is drastic enough to make a point in both society and botany, is the immediate initiation of the full removal of all alien peoples from the United States proper. To understand how nearly impossible and potentially deleterious this would be, apply it directly to botany. How possible would it be to completely eradicate all alien plants? Well, first there needs to be location of the offenders; then positive identification (easier said than done); eradication; and finally reparation for the inevitable wrongly-deported cases. Not very feasible, right? Simply something to think about when you’re tempted to castigate an “alien” group, and you come upon English ivy creeping through the native wintergreen in your local woods.

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