At Republic Gallery until April 18
As visitors climb the last flight of stairs before entering the third-floor Republic Gallery, they encounter Wintour’s Hanging Garden, a floor-level photo installation by San Francisco artist and poet Yedda Morrison. It is composed of densely and lusciously collaged found images of flowers and foliage, printed on synthetic canvas and overlaid on the existing carpet. Conditioned as we all are to respect both art and gardens, walking on this photo-carpet feels like trespass, even vandalism.
Eventually, however, the guilty sense of trespass is replaced by another uncomfortable feeling—an awareness of our own well-oiled hypocrisy. As consumers, we daily stomp all over nature, culture, and their fraught interface.
Morrison’s new series of colour photographs is based on appropriated images of “nature” from a big, fat September issue of Vogue magazine. Its long, lyrical title, “Nothing Here Appears to Exist But What Contributes to Harmony”, is borrowed from the field notes of an early-19th-century botanist, Thomas Nuttall.
In her artist’s statement, Morrison explains that Nuttall’s project was to collect plants along the westward route of the Lewis and Clark expedition, in what was then the Arkansas Territory. Subtextually, the reference suggests not only the extinction of many indigenous plants and wildflowers (and their replacement by alien agricultural, decorative, and invasive species) as a result of westward expansion but also the destruction, displacement, and forced assimilation of aboriginal peoples.
Given Morrison’s visually seductive, Vogue-based project, the reference initially seems obscure. On scrutinizing Morrison’s colour photographs, however, and examining the ways she has foregrounded aspects of what would have been the backgrounds of fashion features and advertising, it starts to make sense. We’re asked to consider “the ways in which nature is used to market, ameliorate, codify, mythologize and render sublime” global economies. These are the same consumption-driven economies that propelled colonialism and grossly, cancerously expanded from it.
September Ecologies consists of 26 small colour photographs, individually framed but mounted together in a corner of the gallery. Here, slightly grainy and blurred images of flowers, gardens, meadows, ocean waves, lakeside decks, pergolas, horses, and greyhounds are punctuated with disconnected bits of fashion models—a leg in a high black boot, a hand emerging from the sleeve of a long black dress. Morrison has effectively reversed the order of actor and backdrop in what she calls “the glossy drama of consumerism”, disrupting the ways in which we assign value to objects.
“Alternate Readings”, a series of four large pigment prints, focuses on pale pink Icelandic poppies and carefully trimmed boxwood; long blades of grass along with a patch of sequined fabric and what looks like the tail and leg (and second tail?) of a pink-hued dog; a meadow strewn with small, white wildflowers; and long strands of copper-coloured hair blowing upwards across a cloudy sky. In Alternate Reading 4 (Stormy Sky), the pixels of the original magazine image are greatly enlarged, niftily resembling and reiterating the sequins in Alternate Reading 2 (Field Grass detail) hanging across the room. Separated from creatures or beings, hair takes on a kind of creepy, voodoo power.
At the same time that Morrison examines the social construction of nature, she discombobulates elements of material desire and visual seduction. Beauty becomes weirdly beastly.