Living in 2019 means living with the creeping suspicion that, at some point in the near future, the classic Jonas Brothers song “Year 3000” will be a reality and we’ll all be living underwater. You know, because we are slowly but surely destroying Earth.
Whether you are an ecology fanatic or just retweet a lot of global warming jokes on Twitter, it’s evident that man has never been nature’s friend. The more we turn to technology, the more we shun Mother Nature, and the eleven artists featured at UNIX Gallery’s ManMade by Nature exhibit have a lot to say about it.
The show, which runs until October 26th in the fabulous Chelsea studio, focuses on the presentation of nature through a technological lens in order to highlight our natural world in the midst of the drastic ecological changes it is undergoing. This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with five of the eleven artists to discuss the exhibit, their concept and how their work fits into this idea of nature in an ever-evolving world.
Jessica Lichtenstein creates virtual natural worlds incorporating the female body as a representation of nature, power, objectification, and fetishism.
TAYLOR ENGLE: So, tell me how you got involved with this exhibit.
JESSICA LICHTENSTEIN: The theme was presented to me as how technology can influence and heighten an artist’s view of nature. My work is very…forest-ful (is that a word?), so it made sense. My first thought was that I wanted to create artwork that sort of bleeds into the wall and opens up another world. Of course it’s all digital, but I really wanted the installation to expand beyond the canvas.
I love that concept. Your work is so intriguing, how it all sort of relates back to this idea of the female form.
Yes! I look at this canvas and I just want to escape into this world, sort of like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I wanted to create this dense, colorful, overwhelming, real but fantastical mess. The circle of life and the beauty of women. It just makes me want to dive into the wall. I want to be bathed in all of these women.
As for the medium you chose, why digital?
I love drawing and painting and all of that, but to me, digital allows you to be a better artist than you actually are. You can play more, move, manipulate — you can really make it your own. This piece has thousands of layers that only I can see and really even know exist, which I love. If you peel back the top layers, it’s an entirely different picture. Working with digital is a very tedious process but it almost becomes meditative. Here is this thing that crashed my computer about 30 different times in the process, but I can just keep adding layers if I want. It’s this masochistic, torturous, greedy, manic, relaxing process and that really appeals to me.
Jonny Detiger is an intricate line and mixed media sculpture artist whose work celebrates life and brings joy to the mundane. His work for ManMade by Nature is an immersive experience. While it looks like nothing more than a wooden box with wheels and an antenna, the sounds that emanate make you feel like you are in the middle of a forest. Birds chirping, the babbling of a nearby stream and the rustle of leaves take you to another world entirely.
Why did you choose sound as a medium for this piece?
JONNY DETIGER: A lot of my work is influenced by music and sound. When I do a show, I like the idea of interaction. When you go into the room, you hear this babbling stream and feel like you’re in a different world. These were existing sounds that I sourced for a natural effect; I like the use of this kitschy, fake material that transfers into an illusion of realness and nature.
What inspires your work?
The main theme of my work is a celebration of life and positivity; a sense of humor and playfulness. I like a sense of surprise. A lot of my work has a sense of fun and uplifting feelings. Joy is the theme for everything I create. As for this exhibit, everyone needs nature. Especially in New York; we are deprived of nature, even though it is all around us.
Vanessa Harden is a multi-disciplinary artist and guerilla gardener. She is the founder of The Subversive Gardener, a nonprofit that encourages guerilla gardening in urban spaces (which is always looking for assistants or volunteers!). For this exhibit she presented Tools by Q, the urban gardening kit for someone with a discreet green thumb.
So after some light stalking, I found out that Tools by Q was conceptualized in London originally. How did the idea come about and why did you bring it back for this exhibit?
VANESSA HARDEN: About ten years ago, I was in London for school and in the evenings, I would go gardening with Richard Reynolds: the guerilla gardening guru of the UK. The more time I spent with him, the more I found myself riding the tube with a bucket of soil and shovels, or going to uni with a big bag full of equipment. I started wondering if there were more inconspicuous tools. Guerilla gardening is not legal, which is silly, and to me that meant that if you’re guerilla gardening, you’re going to need some James Bond-esque apparel to do it. I figured there had to be a way to integrate gardening into the everyday routine, and Tools by Q is an attempt to do just that. Be both a city dweller and a contributor to this important cause.
That makes complete sense; if I were an illicit gardener, I’d want to travel in style. Why is Tools by Q ideal for ManMade by Nature?
Out of all of the artists in the exhibit, I’m the only artist designer. If anything, I’m a designer who can exhibit as an artist because my work is functional and creates solutions for actual challenges. I try to use real life rather than just comment on it.
Tatyana Murray is a multimedia artist whose trees of light were materialized to remind us of the fragility of nature.
I went by the gallery yesterday to check out your work, and I must say it is arresting. What brought forth the concept?
TATYANA MURRAY: Oh, thank you so much. It actually came as a complete accident. I was working on these sheets and had dropped something on them; there was a scratch and the light on the roof happened to light it up. It made me stop what I was doing and go, “Woah.” Throughout all of my series, light has been an essential component. It represents the fragility of nature and how it is being destroyed–a commentary on how beautiful nature is.
What drives you to create?
Our world is so go go go, I want my work to demand viewers to stop and look. To have a real conversation with the piece. I want reflection. I’m self-taught, and half the time I don’t know what I’m doing. My art informs itself, and that gives me freedom. It can be a struggle for studied artists to get out of the shadow of their teachers, but I open my eyes and am so influenced by everyone around me.
That’s the way to live life in general, I think. Are your trees specifically for this exhibit?
I actually have a larger display of my trees at an upcoming show in the Hamptons! It’s a pop up space. I’ve also donated quite a few of my trees to a hospital. My work is very accessible and conceptual for everyone. It’s all-inclusive, and I’ve been told my trees have had an incredible effect on people in the waiting rooms.
Stephanie Hirsch is an artist who traditionally works in “women’s work,” i.e., embroidery or beading. This piece explores the themes of nature through an animated video installation.
You typically work in “women’s work,” so why nature?
STEPHANIE HIRSCH: Nature teaches us so much about life. Blooming, death, rebirth. In the new digital age, I’m curious about how I can relay my message and mission on this Earth into a digital format while keeping the integrity of my work. To use nature not just in its organic state but also in its digital. That’s how I came up with this animation.
You incorporated a lot of femininity into this piece, much like your work as a whole. Can you tell me a little about that?
So the animations are my physical beaded pieces animated interspersed with digitized animation. I tend to gravitate towards flowers and femininity; the two go hand in hand for me. These elements are all feminine-based, and encourages the viewer to embrace that part of themselves. It’s a message to both genders, really.
How is it a message to men?
Connecting. Women are the vehicles that bring spirit into human form. We connect deeply to the universal consciousness and have a direct link into our intuition and emotional states; this is the Divine Feminine. But we also can’t just be one or the other. We all have aspects of masculine and feminine within ourselves, regardless of gender. I think my work can enlighten a man to soften the edges a bit and for a woman to rise into their most peaceful, powerful self. This is not just femininity; it’s being more emotionally intuitive, caring, and kind.
Talk me through your creative process.
JESSICA: Well, it starts with coffee. Always coffee. I drop my kid off in the morning, I work out and then it begins. Usually around 11 a.m., and I’ll go until around 6 or 7 every day. It comes and goes in spurts. There are some days that I don’t feel like creating at all. I’m kind of a night owl though, so I always have my laptop next to me while I sleep. You know, in case I’m drifting off and an idea comes to me – then I might just stay up working on it until 3, 4 in the morning.
JONNY: I’m very open-minded when I work. Tomorrow, something might happen to make me switch concepts entirely, and that can expand into something bigger. I go back and forth between disciplines and themes. For this year, it was definitely nature and flowers. At the same time, I’m also working on new music pieces. I’m very inspired by the disco era right now and the iconoclastic lifestyle that goes with it–the interiors of clubs that don’t even exist anymore.
VANESSA: I wake up, work out (I just completed a triathlon) to keep my mind focused. Then I have a huge to-do list, including teaching, working on various exhibits and looking at the nonprofit and what needs to be done. Everything I do involves creativity, but there is a process. I guarantee most artists that actually do this for a living don’t sit next to a window and come up with romantic ideas. The reason we do this is because the work is important and meaningful.
STEPHANIE: My day always begins with meditation. That’s where the answers come. Then I usually work out, because moving your body helps you to stay in a higher state, and sometimes I’ll just sit and try to feel the message. I’ll spend a few hours in the studio finishing pieces, starting pieces, working on ideas, sketching in my head. I start to get this feeling about stuff, and it’s always related to what I want to create or conquer within myself. I’m guided and I honor it.
TATYANA: I have two Australian shepherds so I get up in the morning, have coffee on my rooftop garden, do some meditation and then head to the studio. My dogs and I take the train there. Before I even enter, it’s important to clear my head so that the second I open the door, I can go straight to the pieces I’m working on and within the first 3-5 seconds, I see exactly how I can push it further. I work very intuitively. If I’m starting a piece, I have a sense of where I’m going, but I also let it have room and guide me in a different direction. Accidents are the biggest gift.
The ManMade by Nature exhibit is available to view until October 26th at Unix Gallery 513 W 26th St New York, NY