It’s hard to look around and not see the effects of pollution, population and industrialization on the environment. Though Atlantans live in a relatively green oasis, the encroaching concrete-ification of the city marches onward. “Ruination: A Study of Consequences” at Spruill Gallery is a rumination on a reality many of us know, but maybe prefer not to contemplate too often or too deeply.
But it’s hard to miss the brutal truth of what we’ve created in photographer Tauri Scruggs’ fascinating aerial documentary photographs of enormous garbage mounds in metro Atlanta and North Georgia disguised with grass and carefully bulldozed steppes. Like an image of the subway’s underground passages, the photographs visualize a dimension of our reality we rarely see or think about. Some of those garbage mountains are constructed shockingly close to neighborhoods: imagine the reality of the people whose homes are shown in one image, buffered by a road and a smattering of trees from a trash Machu Picchu.
Christine Bentley’s canny found object sculptures also show the inescapable intertwining of nature and the human-made. Her collisions of pine straw and plastic rope, wood and neon-orange construction site fencing conjure up our immediate experience as residents of the modern world, with these everyday mashups of our landscape and the surveyor’s and developer’s marks of change.
Matthew Phillips’ simple but resonant sculpture “Better Half” suspends a blackgum branch from the ceiling, capturing this singularly graceful natural form. But the other side of the multipronged branch has been carefully cut away, marked by a human touch, much as the perfect square cube below of compressed sawdust has reconstituted nature into something else.
In her “Travels Through” series, artist Keri Weiland isolates moments in frame grabs from video games that seem to speak to the kind of apocalyptic imagery that both forebodes and even relishes environmental destruction in images of two-headed bulls, polluted rivers and nuclear mushroom clouds.
In two different bodies of work that are interesting but not always persuasive meditations on nature corrupted, photographers Katherine Dean and Hannah Kraus use a bit of artistic intervention to comment upon the ways we warp and change the natural world.
Dean manipulates her Polaroids of the Southern landscape by introducing food waste and household chemicals into the development process so that the original landscape is barely discernible. Instead we get strange, mutated formations that can suggest mountain ranges or undersea coral or microscopic organisms, images that seem to have little to do with the original vantage. The landscape has been so successfully obliterated, the works seem more about the artist’s process than a true conversation about environmental destruction.
Also at times allowing technique to overshadow intent, Kraus uses intense colors and plants captured against artificial, otherworldly backdrops to comment upon how human beings impact the land. Her sunflower stems are pierced by nails, soil erupts in flames and the roots of her flowers harbor strange glowing, toxic-looking parasitic purple and yellow growths. The photographs show these botanicals besieged by ruinous forces; they wilt and buckle under the effects. At times, the images can suggest the effects of climate change; at others, some more sci-fi force.
While few would argue that the world has been adversely impacted by human presence, there is something in the hyperbolic stagecraft and at times out of focus and off-kilter perspective that Kraus chooses that distracts from her larger point, a problem seen in other works that can keep a worthwhile theme from registering with the needed impact.