What makes a place livable for wild creatures?
The fourth annual “KEEPING WATCH” looks at wildlife, in the built environment.
Since 2014, this series at UNC Charlotte Center City’s Projective Eye Gallery has addressed pressing environmental issues, using exhibitions, research, community-based projects and other programming. Past exhibitions focused on specifics: plastics and recycling (2014), urban streams (2015) and air and the tree canopy (2016).
But this year’s version, “KEEPING WATCH on HABITAT,” is broader. It is also the series’ least instructional, most contemplative exhibition.
As is typical at Projective Eye, work spills out beyond the gallery. In the window is the collaborative project “Root Cause.” Here, Madison Kate Dunaway and Caleb Roenigk’s foreboding mixed-media sculpture twines around Terry Thirion’s paintings of environmentally threatened frogs fading into semi-abstract landscapes.
In the lobby is Heather Freeman’s “Carolinian Herbal,” a series of banners depicting plants and animals – some native, some not – found in the Carolinas. Freeman photographs local plants and taxidermied animals, then alternates between digitally manipulating and painting the combined images, resulting in works that blend scientific accuracy and the richness of folklore.
Jennifer Angus is represented by several impressive untitled works, one in the lobby and another in the gallery. Her installations are reminiscent of wallpaper, textiles and rugs, but are composed almost entirely of insects arranged in complex, decorative patterns.
Early in the exhibition’s run, Angus completed another installation, “Carpet Beetles,” on the gallery floor. Replacing it (and still on view) is Shaun Cassidy’s “Skin Deep,” completed with the help of homeless neighbors who utilize the services of the nearby Urban Ministry Center. A small forest fashioned from alternating thin layers of natural and human-made materials, it is a visual display of fragility and interdependence. (Following “Skin Deep” is “Developing Disorder” by Alison Donohue, which will debut in the gallery April 22.)
Despite the variety and intensity of work in the gallery, the mood in this space is quiet and reflective.
Elena Belova has inscribed the names of extinct and endangered North Carolina species on the gallery and lobby floors.
Natalie Abrams’ map-like “Abstraction of Anne Springs Close Greenway” and “Abstraction of Latta Plantation Preserve,” mixed-media representations of metro Charlotte conservation lands, are dotted with vivid acrylic components that represent vegetation.
Almost all of the works from photographers William Wylie, Deborah Triplett, Micah Cash, Meredith Hebden, Byron Baldwin and Cynthia Cole are displayed in identical fashion – two large photographs paired in a single frame. Because of this presentation, a viewer may initally think these artists share similar viewpoints, but closer examination reveals a range – some bleak, some hopeful, some questioning.
Taken along the Catawba River 30 years ago, Wylie’s photographs of nature variously cut down, rearranged, destroyed and abandoned now seem prescient.
Triplett documents the destruction taking place on a 15-acre estate near her home, with “before” photographs of old structures and gardens and “after” photographs in which all is leveled for new construction.
Cash shows nature viewed through barriers, some physical, some psychological. In works that address what he describes as “the uneasy alliance between tourism and preservation,” fields and parklands are seen from parking decks, observation platforms or the other side of a gate.
Notes of optimism appear in Hebden’s work, in which plants emerge from sidewalk cracks and construction debris, and Baldwin’s stirring images have a storytelling aspect.
Cole shows nature both free and constrained with an image of potted plants in a store inserted in the middle of a mountain vista.
“KEEPING WATCH on HABITAT” avoids the simplistic reduction of its theme to a conflict of pure nature vs. destructive humankind. Instead, it is a thoughtful, open-ended exploration of co-existence.
KEEPING WATCH on HABITAT
Through April 27 at Projective Eye Gallery, UNC Charlotte Center City; https://coaa.uncc.edu/events-exhibitions/venues-and-galleries/projective-eye-gallery; 704-687-0833. Information: keepingwatch.org.