I had a chance to visit the Hirshhorn Museum yesterday and what struck me was the contrast between the museum’s collection of modernist paintings, preoccupied with blocks of color and straight lines; and the works of more contemporary artists that seem to have turned away from the linear to the ambiguous borderland between natural and constructed. Two artists in particular, working with video: Grazia Toderi and Laurent Grasso. First, Toderi’s work Orbite Rosse:
The flashes of light, the red glow evoke, as the exhibit guide describes, “night-vision news broadcasts of the first Gulf War”. I’ve seen similar glowing grids while flying over cities at night. One gets the sense that something has been destroyed, that we’re seeing the after-effects of some major event, the earth in 200 years, perhaps. Despite the artificiality of the scene, the presence of slowly whirling stars lends a sense of calm and timelessness to the world.
Laurent Grasso’s work is also beautiful and unsettling. His Polair film has unpopulated views of East Berlin lightly obscured by fine, fluffy seedlings. Or what appear to be seedlings. The regularity of the seedlings’ movement and the background electrical pops lead one to think there is something not quite naturalistic about the scene. Unfortunately, there are no good clips of Polair online, but here’s one of his other works:
The videos don’t do the installations justice – especially the clarity of the imagery and the way the background noises surround the viewer. Seeing these two works together, and seeing them in contrast to the static works of the museum’s permanent collection left me wondering if a new environmentalism has been gaining traction in contemporary art. Sure, depictions of nature have had a long history from Maria Sibylla Merian’s insect illustrations to Chinese scrolls filled with mountain scenery, but now art seems to be capturing the uneasiness of living in the Anthropocene. The living on a knife’s edge where technology and nature have begun to mesh almost imperceptibly.