Art for a Changing Earth

Painter Alison Moritsugu’s new exhibition combines medium and message to explore humanity’s impact on the environment.

Remnant, 2015, 55" H x 23 1/2" W x 1 3/4" D, Oil on ash log

Art, as typically viewed in austere galleries, labyrinthine museums or collectors’ homes, is incredibly removed from its raw materials—nature. In that way, art is a lot like every other product or commodity of western civilization: It’s a type of denial of nature, even though humanity’s advanced culture is still part of nature. But with her series inconsequence / in consequence, artist Alison Moritsugu brings the natural world back into the gallery with new works that attempt to highlight environmental urgencies.

Moritsugu garnered some attention a few weeks back when her “log paintings” appeared on This Is Colossal. Using the flat surfaces of cut trunks and branches, Moritsugu painted an array of nature scenes, recalling ancient and medieval landscape painting. The results were like a fine art multimedia remix of Bob Ross’s Joy of Painting.

Chaparro Repeat, 2008, Ink on enhanced adhesive synthetic wallpaper, 132" H x 76" W (dimensions variable)

As with the log paintings, Moritsugu’s inconsequence / in consequence exhibition continues her exploration of the “human interaction with the natural world and with a changing environment.” The show features a number of new works, including two log paintings as well as pieces on paper, sculpture and wallpapers. It’s an exhibition that, as Littlejohn Contemporary gallery says, functions as a “cautionary tale” for our times—how we objectify nature as tourists and “commodify land for its resources, and adversely control and shape the environment to suit our needs”.

“The media is rife with accounts of record-breaking heat and rainfall, saltier seas, larger algae blooms and unprecedented die-offs,” said Moritsugu of the exhibition. “Some choose to deny such a change, some hope for a technological breakthrough or miracle solution, while others believe that fortifications can be built to mitigate harm. My new work examines some of our attempts to deal with a changing earth.”

Wildfire Vignette, 2012, paper size: 22 3/4" H x 29" W, Gouache on paper, framed

Ash and Vestige, log paintings that Moritsugu painted on ash trees, each contain 77 growth rings. The scene initially appears “idyllic” with an old tree in a state of decay. But upon closer inspection, Moritsugu depicts the effects of the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that has spread from the Upper Midwest to bring decay to what otherwise look like seemingly normal, healthy trees. It’s a metaphor for humanity’s impact on the environment, whether by bringing—intentionally or not—invasive species into ecosystems, or by clear cutting forests.

Moritsugu’s piece Littoral Folly is a rococo vignette-style decorative wallpaper that depicts images of tractors maintaining beaches, houses built on stilts, concrete shore barriers and tsunami sirens. The ocean has always naturally reorganized the shoreline and it is folly for humans to think they can keep beaches permanently static and untouched.

Beachfront, 2015, 13 3/4" H x 16" W, Gouache on paper, framed

In Talisman, Moritsugu creates a large floor piece out of a torso-like tree trunk. She “rescued” the trunk from her neighbor’s downed pear tree, which was getting cut up with chain saws. Moritsugu gave the trunk a highly polished surface, then “tattooed” it by carving into the wood and inlaying it with black. The imagery is that of “old sailors’ tattoos caught in maelstroms of nature.” The intent was to update these old school tattoos to encompass modern environmental terms for climate like “resiliency,” “adaptation,” and “mitigation.”

Unlike many new media artists from the millennial generation, Moritsugu is not active on social media. So, while she has a website, Moritsugu won’t be seen advertising her art on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Her nature artwork can be seen as an antidote to a generation who document their impressions of nature through screens, carefully framed, cropped and filtered with imaging apps. In this way, she is something of a traditionalist, but also working firmly within the ecological, economic and political awareness of the times.

Talisman, 2015, 42 3/4" H x 35" W x 24 3/4" D, Inlaid pear wood

“Painters throughout art history from the Northern Song, Baroque, Rococo and Hudson River School tailored their depictions of nature to serve an artistic narrative,” reads Moritsugu’s artist statement. “Today, photoshopped images of verdant forests and unspoiled beaches invite us to vacation and sightsee, providing a false sense of assurance that the wilderness will always exist. By exploring idealized views of nature, my work acknowledges our more complex and precarious relationship with the environment.”

NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less

Climate change means our future is uncertain, but in the meantime, it's telling us a lot about our past. The Earth's glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, but as the ice dwindles, ancient artifacts are being uncovered. The Secrets of the Ice project has been surveying the glaciers on Norway's highest mountains in Oppland since 2011. They have found a slew of treasures, frozen in time and ice, making glacier archeologists, as Lars Pilø, co-director of Secrets of the Ice, put it when talking to CNN, the "unlikely beneficiaries of global warming."

Instead of digging, glacier archeologists survey the areas of melting ice, seeing which artifacts have been revealed by the thaw. "It's a very different world from regular archaeological sites," Pilø told National Geographic. "It's really rewarding work.

Keep Reading Show less

When former Pittsburgh Steelers' center Mike Webster committed suicide in 2002, his death began to raise awareness of the brain damage experienced by NFL football players. A 2017 study found that 99% of deceased NFL players had a degenerative brain disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Only one out of 111 former football players had no sign of CTE. It turns out, some of the risks of traumatic brain injury experienced by heavily padded adults playing at a professional level also exist for kids with developing brains playing at a recreational level. The dangers might not be as intense as what the adults go through, but it can have some major life-long consequences.

A new PSA put out by the Concussion Legacy Foundation raises awareness of the dangers of tackle football on developing brains, comparing it to smoking. "Tackle football is like smoking. The younger I start, the longer I am exposed to danger. You wouldn't let me smoke. When should I start tackling?" a child's voice can be heard saying in the PSA as a mother lights up a cigarette for her young son.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

On Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted about some favorable economic numbers, claiming that annual household income is up, unemployment is low, and housing prices are high.

Now, just imagine how much better those numbers would be if the country wasn't mired in an economy-killing trade war with China, bleeding out trillion-dollar-a-year debts, and didn't suffer from chaotic leadership in the Oval Office?

At the end of tweet, came an odd sentence, "Impeach the Pres."

Keep Reading Show less

October is domestic violence awareness month and when most people think of domestic violence, they imagine mostly female victims. However, abuse of men happens as well – in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. But some are taking it upon themselves to change all that.

Keep Reading Show less