Reconsidering Nature and the Human Relationship

Regular visitors to the Heckscher Museum of Art are in for a surprise—there’s never been quite a show there like this one. There’s a waterfall made from newspaper shreds, a virtual walk through the woods, bamboo that seems to pass through a wall and broken bits of technology and tree roots that make up art inspired by nature.

Welcome to Earth Matters—a group show of contemporary art made by five artists with ties to Long Island. The exhibition is designed to invoke thought and conversation on preservation, consumer impact and inquires whether spending time in nature is part of the Long Island experience.

image“It’s very different for the Heckscher,” said museum curator Lisa Chalif. “It’s thought provoking. We wanted to do something that would have significance or meaning to the community. Environmental issues are timely, right now.”

All exhibiting artists use recycled materials, and sometimes natural ones, to make works with unique perspectives on the nature-human connection. The diverse materials and art making was a conscious choice, said Chalif, I wanted a broad perspective on the environment.”

Tamiko Kawata made “Newsday Fall” from five weeks of Newsday newspapers with wood dowels and brackets. Her work, “Sea Urchins,” uses bubble wrap to envelop shredded paper from offices, centers and individuals. Her art raises issues of human consumption and waste through her experimentation with different “humble” materials, she said.

Thea Lanzisero’s “Tend” is an arch made from bamboo, jute rope, steel, the labor of volunteers and a list of their names to create the installation that spans outside and inside (the artwork doesn’t really pass through the museum wall—it’s just meant to look that way). The work bridges the pathways human thoughts can travel when confronted by changes undergone in nature.

Barbara Roux’s “Moon of Fallen Limbs” uses fallen branches of tulip trees found near Lloyd Harbor beneath the shimmers of a shining moon. Exhibited photographs provide insight into cycles of life, dying, growth and changes in nature.

Seung Lee’s installation “Tree of Life III” combines projected video with stationary artwork made from wood scraps, broken TV and VCR parts, shattered dishes and other discarded materials. His art connects time (past, present and future) to the shifting relationship between the personal, society and nature. An implied demise manifests in the subtle combination of material. Lee also has three other mixed media works in the show.

Winn Rea uses reeds and pins to conjure a topographical map in “Reed Topo: Cold Spring Harbor Hollow.” A two-channel video installation projected through a hanging scrim with mirrors to a backdrop of a recorded soundscape is “Topo Walk: Cold Spring Harbor Hollow.” The pair of artworks was made to create a multi-faceted and multi-sensory experience of a wooded area of Long Island.

imageDiverse materials and methods can make it tough to identify art in the environmental genre outside of themed shows. Added to that, the public’s interest in environmental art tends to wax and wane according to prevailing attitudes towards ecology, preservation and the role the earth should play in the human drama.

“I think environmental art is respected but not widely seen as a style,” said Roux. “Environmental artists are so varied in their content and concept and their inspiration. But we need them to bring out awareness of respect for nature.”

Opportunity for discovery and connections between nature and humans flows throughout environmental art that raises issues for viewers to consider their own attitudes, actions and interactions with nature.

“I believe artists can do a lot to educate the public for preserving Earth but we have to produce good works to speak to them,” said Kawata.

Separately, Chalif agreed. She believes Earth Matters demonstrates the range environmental art can take and provide access into the conceptual art on view.

Earth Matters remains on view through October 23. Also on view is Across Time & Place: Treasures from the Permanent Collection through October 23 and New York, New York, a tribute to New York City through October 16. The Heckscher Museum of Art is located at 2 Prime Ave, Huntington. (631) 351-3250,

pat rogers

Pat Rogers is a freelance writer specializing in arts and culture on Long Island. When not going to art openings or interviewing actors or musicians, she’s looking for the next interesting story.