Visiting exhibition explores nature and artifice

By Charles Campbell

Passing though the corridors of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, it is hard to ignore the new scent saturating the air, resembling a mix of a wealthy aunt’s potpourri and the clustered interior of a beach candyshop. Tracing the saccharine odor to its source, one comes upon “Jerry’s Bough” (2002-05), a wooden sculpture by Gabriel Akagawa ’99 reminiscent of a vessel’s framework from which hang garlands of multicolored air fresheners. This is Faketure, the newest exhibit at the Macalester College Art Gallery, featuring the work of a variety of artists whose work unites under the dual and intersecting themes of artifice and nature. The exhibit derives its awkward name from and takes as its interest the concepts of “fake”-ness, and “Nature,” in turn illustrating the link between the two. As society defines what is thought of as artificial, so does it set the parameters of that which is taken to be natural. Both are cultural constructs, reflecting just as much about ourselves as the things we set out to describe.

Where the work comes together it also separates, representing the diverse ways in which the individual artists interpret the themes. Spanning two walls hang photographs from Annie Hogan’s Discharge series (2003). In them, glowing amorphous shapes seem on the verge of pulsating beyond their frames. Contradicting light’s function of aiding sight, the hazy borders of the shapes burn outwards, obscuring the domestic environment where they were taken. It comes as a surprise that these photos, evocative of giant flaming novas in the depths of the universe, are in fact representative of the small, contained spaces in which we live.

Amy Mayfield takes a different approach in her painting, “Twenty-nine People’s Mediums” (2004), presenting us with a creamy, colorful landscape, less inviting the longer one examines it. Inhabiting the scene lurk hairy creatures that seem discordant in their surroundings and lend themselves to an unsettling feeling in the viewer.

In addition to two-dimensional work, a variety of sculptures and installations compose Faketure. Travis Lanning’s creatures, half-turtle, half-fowl, hover midair above Deborah Handler’s giant copper Shell, reminiscent of a beached ship’s hull. A gateway of garishly-colored hydrangeas frames a doorway. The ebb of an ocean flows at unpredictable rates in a video installation. In the center of the gallery stands an interactive installation by David Parker called “Heartbeat Carillon” (2005). By placing their hands in the middle of each station’s arc, participants’ heartbeats trigger a tower of glass bells that transform the deep rhythmic beats into a caucophony of trilling and clanging.

But it is not until you leave the gallery space that you come upon the pieces that most clearly illustrate the exhibit’s theme. In “Terrarium Suites” (2005) a row of seedlings seem at home nestled within the tomes of old manuals. A tree seems effortlessly bisected in Ficus De-Construct (2004). Using a combination of organic and found items, exhibit curator and Macalester graduate, Gabriel Akagawa creates elegant assemblages and sculptural forms that seamlessly combine nature and artifice.

To look upon Faketure as a whole, we are forced to examine the semiotic and ideological structures giving meaning to our environment that we passively embrace. Whether or not to plug your nose upon entering the building is up to you.

Faketure runs until Dec. 2, when the closing reception will take place from 7-9 p.m. in the Macalester College Art Gallery.