The technological meets the natural at Swan Coach House Gallery in Anthropocene, a three-person exhibition curated by ShowerHaus and on view only through February 13. An artist’s talk is scheduled at 6:30 that night.
First, a definition of sorts. It comes from Nature magazine. Most scientists, it says, agree that humans have had a hand in warming Earth’s climate since the Industrial Revolution. Some even argue that we are living in a new geological epoch, which has been dubbed the Anthropocene.
This is the starting point for Atlanta artists Andrew Catanese and Kylie Reece Little and Birmingham-based contemporary light artist Lily Reeves. All base their work on ideas of reconnection, consumption and repurposed material. In doing so, they reflect the dawn of this new age and explore the relationship between function and frivolity.
You’ll see brass-framed mirrors and neon lights bounce bright colors off piles of handmade adobe bricks. You’ll see acrylic masks with bright green faces and dark bottomless eyes on the walls. Cotton broadcloth vines sway from the ceiling while a massive simulated landscape of soil and clay rises altar-like from the floor. Walking into Anthropocene is like discovering a church brimming with religious artifacts.
The Swan Coach House itself, a repurposed carriage house, highlights themes of nature, history and stylish versatility. Anthropocene begins outdoors, in the garden and on the patio near the gallery walkway. To fully appreciate Reeves’ Suncatcher III, see it after sundown, when mirrored neon lights illuminate the trees and bushes embracing it. Notice, too, Catanese’s Longleaf Pine sculptures. They’re made of zip ties, plastic and duct tape, and change the conversation with the lush bushes and flowers around them.
In his paintings, Catanese adapts classical mythology, fables and biblical narratives for Southern landscapes. The figures in The Trumpet Vine, for example, wrestle, sometimes literally, with norms about gender and sexuality. While their world is imagined, the narratives reflect Catanese’s experiences growing up queer in the South. His work encourages us to ask how we construct the myths of our present and future.
Construction is significant here. Little describes her creative process as slow, messy, laborious and repetitive. “My forms were inspired by utilitarian objects such as pipelines, oil platforms and traditional construction materials to play with the power of function versus aesthetic,” she says. “Throughout the research and creation of this work, I have fallen deeply in love with soil and all it can do.”
Each artist uses repurposed material and organic resources, which bring a sense of balanced divergence to the exhibit. Reeves’ Inside the Sky, with its plexiglass neon lights and titled floating triangles of warm and cool tones, for example, complements Catanese’s hanging green Vines installation.
Reeves says she found inspiration in a spiritual chasm she felt while creating this work. Her warped rainbow, in particular, is inspired by an essay titled Haunted Geologies; Spirits, Stones, and the Necropolitics of the Anthropocene by Danish anthropologist Nils Bubandt. He speaks of human-caused disasters and how in the 21st century these are more common than natural disasters. “For me,” Reeves says, “the distorted rainbow became a symbol of this perversion of nature, and also this distorted version of spiritualism that occurs when our ideals are shaped by modern greed and consumerism.”
Little’s Rig No. 2 — like Reeves’ Inside the Sky and Catanese’s green Vines — is suspended from the ceiling. The brusque, utilitarian piece, crafted from polycarbonate tubing, hardware, plywood and parachute cord, greets viewers as they enter.
Little explains. “The work does not function as it is perceived to function, but it looks utilitarian,” she says. “For some reason, we [as a society] trust what appears to have a definitive purpose or exists to carry out a specific task. This gives tools and systems the privilege of automatic respect. By blurring the line between utilitarian and frivolous, I question my feelings of certainty and invoke discussion on each material’s use, merit and place in the world.”
Anthropocene’s colors and textures create a beautiful tapestry. Little’s Simulated Landscape for Public View (GA) might express it best. The altar-like installation is center stage on the gallery floor. Minuscule mountains of soil and clay rise and fall throughout, inviting viewers to look on from above or take in the details at floor level. The installation — a small slice of the natural world — serves as an X-ray pillar cutting through the polished floors.