In Tadao Cern’s sweeping installation “French Exit,” a cloud of feathery grasses looms over the room. The immersive artwork juxtaposes the ephemeral, dried material with the viewers who stand underneath as it creates a soothing and introspective space to consider the notions of farewells, whether it be the close of a party or more profound experiences, like the end of a relationship or death.
Cern tells Colossal that the title refers to the colloquialism about leaving a social gathering without saying goodbye. “This is something that I usually do because as an introvert, I can not bear with the attention that you get once you say that you have to go. A ping pong game starts of, ‘I have to go,’ and ‘please don’t go,'” says the Lithuania-based artist (previously) says.
Emitting a soft glow, the long-stemmed grasses connect to both the organic nature of the life cycle and the human desire to situate ourselves within a broader context, particularly when confronted by aging and death. Cern writes:
I tried to focus more on the aspect of what we would be missing the most during the last seconds of leaving this place.. My guess (is that) it would be something banal, like fields of wheat during the sunset… Banality is a result of such a strong love and affection with something/somebody that you even get sick of it. And hanging everything on the ceiling creates an illusion of floating for the viewer as if you are being taken to the sky.
Cern finished initial sketches for the installation—which also includes CGI elements and a massive arrow pointing downward—just before the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Months later, he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, coincidental timing that altered his understandings of death and how we collectively say goodbye. “Once the pandemic is over, hopefully, we’ll have a chance to contemplate our farewells in reality. If there is such a thing,” he says.
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Woven throughout Selva Aparicio’s cicada veils and fringed floor coverings are the complexities of rebirth, transition, and beauty’s ability to endure. Organic ephemera—human hair, thorned branches, scavenged wings—become poignant installations and smaller artworks that ruminate on a myriad of global issues, including the climate crisis and the infinite failures of the medical establishment.
Aparicio shares that her explorations of life and death began during childhood when she watched the natural world cycle through growth and decay in the woods outside of Barcelona. This lasting fascination has crystallized in the artist’s body of work, particularly in pieces like “Velo de luto (Mourning veil),” which sews together 1,365 seventeen-year cicada wings with strands of hair taken from two generations of women. The shrouds typically are worn to honor a spouse who’s died, and Aparicio notes the material and form exemplify that “as the fragility of the veil of wings decay so does the patriarchal veil of history that it represents.”
Overall, the artist says that her “practice has evolved beyond the individual to encompass environmental, social, and political activism and evoke the change and rebirth I witnesses in nature.” “Childhood rug,” for example, merges personal memory and a domestic object with larger themes of covering and exposing trauma.
Similarly, Aparicio cites her own experiences in “Hysteria,” an installation that surrounds an antique gynecological table with a curtain of thorned branches. Commenting broadly on the unjust power dynamics inherent within traditional healthcare, the artwork draws a direct correlation between the invasive and painful processes of medicine for women and their ability to bring new life into the world.
Although she spends half her time in Barcelona, Aparicio is currently in Chicago and has work on view at two locations: her piece “Hopscotch” is part of MCA’s group exhibition The Long Dream, while her solo show Hysteria is at the International Museum of Surgical Science, where the artist is in residence. Both are slated to close on January 17, 2021. Head to Instagram for glimpses into Aparicio’s process, as well.
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While traditional wood and velvet-lined caskets can take more than a decade to decompose in the earth, a new design by Bob Hendrikx is an environmentally friendly alternative that replenishes the soil. Breaking down in just two to three years, “The Living Cocoon” is composed entirely of mycelium, the thread-like part of the fungi that branches out underground to provide food to the rest of the organism. The decomposed coffins actually contribute to the soil health by neutralizing toxic substances and providing nutrition. Mycelium is “constantly looking for waste materials to convert into nutrients for the environment…For example, mycelium was used in Chernobyl, is utilized in Rotterdam to clean up soil, and some farmers also apply it to make the land healthy again,” Hendrikx says.
Generated without light, heat, or any sort of active energy source, the coffins are grown in one week by mixing a strain of mycelium and a substrate together and placing the combination in a mold. The fungi then absorbs the other substance and forms the box-like shape. Research by two funeral cooperatives, CUVO and De Laatste Eer, already shows that “The Living Cocoon” decomposes in soil within 30 to 45 days, and the design was used in a burial in recent weeks. “We are currently living in nature’s graveyard. Our behaviour is not only parasitic, it’s also short-sighted. We are degrading organisms into dead, polluting materials, but what if we kept them alive?” Hendrikx says.
A researcher at Delft University of Technology, Hendrikx designed a similar living pod last year for Dutch Design Week, which spurred the idea to create another vessel from mycelium. He’s working currently to implement light-emitting spores, which could serve as an above-ground marker of where a body is buried. To follow Hendrikx’s environmentally conscious designs, head to Instagram and YouTube. You also might enjoy this living pavilion made of agricultural waste and sprawling mushrooms. (via Dezeen)
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Through a winding series of delicate illustrations, Zoe Keller (previously) explores the fragility of the natural world. In Scale & Bone, the Portland-based illustrator renders copper belly water snakes, San Francisco garters, and eastern diamondback rattlers through sinuous compositions that are ripe with skeletal remains, rows of butterflies, and dense patches of fungi. Each graphite drawing examines the tension between life and death and how nature’s processes are cyclical, including the shedding and regeneration of tube-like layers of skin.
Keller’s work considers the beauty of the limbless reptiles in an effort to subvert cultural notions. “Snakes, in particular, fascinate me as a subject matter because they elicit such a strong response in so many people,” she shares with Colossal. Scale & Bone is part of a larger effort to visualize the destruction of ecosystems and widespread loss of biodiversity. “Through the use of visual narratives that are interjected with surreal and magical elements, I hope to allow the species in my drawings to speak with urgency to the forces causing their decline in this time of human-driven mass extinction,” she writes.
Many of Keller’s projects fall at the intersection of art and environmental activism, offering
“opportunities to collaborate directly with scientists working on the ground to protect imperiled species.” The illustrator recently worked with Save the Snakes, an organization that steers conservation efforts and attempts to reduce harm by humans. Her serpent-focused poster will be unveiled this summer in time for World Snake Day.
Scale & Bone currently is on view at Antler Gallery, which is offering a virtual tour on its site. Follow Keller on Instagram for updates on her intertwined illustrations, and check her shop for prints, postcards, and stickers.
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“Does everything you throw in the ocean eventually come back to you?” asks Amsterdam-based director Ben Brand. His new short film, titled “Sea You,” opens with a gray-haired woman sitting at her dining table, except rather than a tear rolling down her cheek, it retreats to her watering eye. This sets in motion a series of events chronicled in reverse: the protagonist is shown riding her bike backward toward the market, while the fish she intended to eat earlier undergoes a packing process in which it’s unwrapped.
Brand said the sincere animation was born out of a story of loss. “When my girlfriend told me the story of her family spreading her deceased grandmother’s ash over the sea (like a lot of people around the world do), I started wondering what actually happens to all that ash,” he writes. As the director reveals in “Sea You,” everything released into the water somehow returns.
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Sinuous, intertwined wildlife bridge worlds of the living and the dead in Lauren Marx’s intricate multi-media work. Twisting fox heads, disemboweled deer, and lambs bursting with flowers and birds are rendered with watercolor, ink, pen, and colored pencil. Marx often places her animal compositions on semi-abstract backgrounds, awash with grey tones that give a sense of weightlessness to the dense drawings by evoking fog or clouds.
The artist, who resides in her hometown of Saint Louis, Missouri, cites frequent trips to the Saint Louis Zoo, biology classes, and National Geographic television shows as cultivating her lifelong interest in animals. Her latest body of work debuts December 14, 2019, at Corey Helford Gallery. The show, titled Chimera, is an evolution from her previous pieces, combining multiple animals into each artwork to combine their symbolic meanings.
“Chimera further explores my concepts of fauna representations of emotions, personal mental health, family, and self,” Marx shares in a statement. “I am creating a mythological world, centered around North American flora and fauna, to better expresses my image of who I am, how I am perceived, my struggles with mental health, and to explore self-healing.”
Marx studied Fine Art at Webster University and draws inspiration from zoology, mythology, scientific illustration, and Northern Renaissance themes. The artist shares with Colossal that in 2020 she wants to continue to challenge herself technically and conceptually, and that works in the Chimera show brought her practice to new levels in terms of scale and complexity.
See Chimera through January 18, 2020, at Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles, and explore more of Marx’s intricate illustrative artwork on Instagram. The artist also offers prints and stickers on Etsy.
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Editor's Picks: Craft
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