rtists since antiquity have depicted nature in countless ways. While nature has certainly been one of the most universal sources of inspiration for artists, in 20th century Western art it has not been a predominant aesthetic issue or force. In the late 19th century Hudson River School artists such as Frederick Church, Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt made spiritually inclined, transcendent landscape paintings reflecting a relationship of communion with nature. Most contemporary art connected with this tradition is perceived as nostalgic, as having a post-industrial longing for a non-existent mythological place. A romanticized view of nature is no longer available to us today as weve devastated and depleted our natural resources.
"The dispassionate eye" of Cartesian perspective culminating in 20th century Modernism has taken us away from an holistic view of nature towards a more detached, interior, subjective psychological space. The outcome of this type of Modernist thinking has resulted in an art dislocated from life and obsessed with a scientific notion of absolute truth, technological progress and the separation of humanity from the rest of the planet.
This exhibition uses the organizing figure of the garden through which a variety of works can be brought together. Some of the artists approach the subject in a contemplative or ritualistic manner, such as Nils Udo's Zen-like arrangements of natural found materials, Roy Staab's ephemeral reed sculptures, Chrysanne Stathacos' performance based Flower Mandala and Joanne Howard's laboriously strung Cicada sculpture.
Like many of these artists, Joan Bankemper and Susan Leibovitz Steinman work collaboratively with community groups, local residents and school students to create garden projects that bring renewal to formally degraded sites. Agnes Denes', monumental Tree Mountain in Finland invited 11,000 people from around the world to each plant a tree, creating the first man made virgin forest.
Figures such as the garden, flowing water and light, and the tree of life and knowledge can all be found in ancient Biblical and medieval mystical texts which involve sun and moon cycles, star formations, tides and seasons. The artists in this exhibition are working with these natural transformative processes towards a new vision- one that is ecological, cyclical, feminist and holistic, opening up the possibility of a new landscape, an alchemical garden.
The most pressing issue of our day and certainly into this new century is the global environment. The intent of this exhibition is to raise environmental awareness by presenting works that transcend current issues in much contemporary art that is addressing popular culture. This process is one of healing in a physical and metaphysical sense. The theme is a synthesis of our post-Newtonian age with its deconstructive practices and decentering electronic technologies with the symbolic past, the proto-scientific age of alchemy which referenced an even more ancient prehistoric time when art and nature were not so clearly distinct from one another.