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Urbanature – Coleen Sterritt and Constance Mallinson

New Representations of the Natural
A six part serial essay and online exhibition focused on the contemporary depiction of landscape in the painting, photographic and sculptural arts.

Introduction and Additional Exhibition Artists:
Urbanature, An Introduction, Merion Estes, Roland Reiss and Elizabeth Bryant,Don Suggs and Karen Carson,Linda Stark and Nancy Evans,Ross Rudel and Pierre Picot –


Perhaps owing to the consumer culture and the endless flow of global commodities, for sculptors the present has been dominated by hybridity, the interdisciplinary, and material excess. Moving closer to what Nicholas Bourriaud has termed “Altermodernism”, these artists take into their stride postmodern pluralities, the conditions of globalism, an overriding discomfort with unexposed fictions as well as a need for an ecological world view. The Altermodern artist unabashedly celebrates and critiques our consumer and consumable world simultaneously,often with humor or a sense of the absurd, and is comfortable with the instabilities and contradictions inherent in this scheme of things. Moreover, the natural, as Coleen Sterritt’s work so dramatically suggests, remains poised not so much in opposition to but is inextricably intertwined with civilization. Since the 1980’s when she was combining natural and industrial materials such as straw, tar, plaster, wood, wire mesh, and resin into large-scale overturned pyramidal shapes, Sterritt has eschewed historical mimetic organic abstraction in favor of what she describes as “an investigation into the uneasy balance between nature and the constructed environment.” That tension is most pronounced in works that graft natural artifacts such as tree limbs onto manufactured objects as in Ways of Seeing. With its entire shape evoking a scale, a dense “forest” of birch limbs sprouts from a tilted, vinyl seat back inexplicably balanced on a stacked series of pieces of found furniture and a textured section of tree trunk. A number of birch rings applied to the tops of the logs recall primitive statuary and totems with their archetypal evocations of human heads. Stranded and crowded on their floating island, propped up by cast-offs from our culture, this mangled grove of anthropomorphic trees seems equated with human imperilment. Likewise, the witty Daddy-O with its jagged, spikey agglomeration of studio detritus, woodworking scraps, and a small  stool conjures up an extinct prehistoric creature with a thorny outsized horn or a human recreation of an exotic, but endangered, bristly coral/cactus. Particular to all of Sterritt’s work, the synthesis between the rugged and sleek, the raw and fabricated is profoundly symbolic of the necessary interdependence of civilization and the natural world, yet cognizant of its possible collapse.

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Like a number of the Urbanature artists, Constance Mallinson’s paintings are inspired by natural artifacts retrieved from walks through the urban and suburban environs of Los Angeles. With a rendering technique reminiscent of 18th century botanical illustration or the 17th century fabulist Archimboldo, she paints decaying cut tree limbs, deformed and twisted branches, gnarled stumps, twigs, and dried, crumbling leaves,  arranged or “collaged” to suggest human forms, scenes, or texts. In some areas, the images dissolve into abstract backgrounds, some created with my own fingerprints, or by dripping and spraying, others consisting of soft brushy fields that mimic blurry photographs, evoking decomposition and disappearance. Provoking a range of questions, they primarily ask how we construct and are constructed by nature and how sexual, cultural and physical human behavior intersects with the non-human. Most recently, Gordian knots of decaying natural materials are intricately interlaced with street detritus, alluding to the intrusion of the manufactured into the natural, as they are in The Green Wire with its screen of desiccated foliage partially hiding  a ghostly disappearing scene. Leaves, twigs, bird’s nests, fragments of plastic, construction materials, auto parts, packaging, toys, dead animals, gleaned from the streets are bound together to create sculptural forms in 2D such as Hybrid Object seen here. A Road Warrior-esque post apocalyptic vehicle, this scrappy, pathetic refashioning of a machine with the fragments of civilization considers the mutual constructions and interdependencies of humans and nature and imagines their possible collapse and re-emergence. Overpopulated urban areas are where the frictions, tensions and loss of connection between the human and the non-human can perhaps be most acutely felt and observed. With its roots deep in art history, the mythological, and current culture, the paintings are allegories for the fragility, crisis, and destruction of life forms in a hypertrophied consumer world, and yet elicit belief in human survival through ingenuity and resourcefulness.

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