Monday, July 27, 2009

Principles, not just the look

Do you have to use natural materials to represent nature? Is choosing recycled material the only possible way to say you are environmentally conscious? The superficiality of the current understanding of environment really bothers me. Luckily, I found the freshness in Tara Donovan's work. It's all everyday synthetic materials - Styrofoam cups, plastic straws, Scotch tapes... with a single action repeated over and over. But this action is always specific to the property of the material itself. Tara Donovan's artistic sensibility turns the ordinary, even the condemned, into magnificence. It evokes not only the morphology of nature, but its systematic principles.

The recent installation at Lever House is made of 2,500 pounds of translucent plastic sheeting, loosely folded into a glassed cutout of a freestanding white wall in the lobby. When you approach from the side, you just see the plastic snaking in the box. Then you look at it frontally. Light comes from behind, squeezes and flushes between the sheets, bounced and reflected in different angles from the shiny curvilinear from. The kaleidoscopic optical effect is awe-inspiring. Then you study closely the accumulation layers. Density of the folds changes vertically. Our mother nature is interfering with her law of gravity.

I still remember the installation she had at the Met last year. The entire room was covered with webs of Mylar tape loops. The pins determined the general configuration, but the final shape of each cell actually evolved from the balance between the material's tendency to unfold and the forces of the neighboring cells. In Donovan's own words, “it is not like I’m trying to simulate nature. It’s more of a mimicking of the way of nature, the way things actually grow.” Again, the play of light and reflection kicks in and creates a unique phenomenological experience for the viewer.

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