The Art of KEEPING WATCH on HABITAT Viewing our environment through an artistic lens

By Crista Cammaroto, Director of Galleries 

In the 20th century, with urban renewal and mid-century infrastructures, the pastoral was pushed outside of the urban environment, and today the dichotomy between nature and human habitat is a fundamental part of the larger question—how do we survive what we have built?  Nature, by its very definition, includes vast biodiversity, but today we undergo drastic simplification, and as we lose species, we have also begun to lose our own health and wellbeing. There is no way to return to Eden, but there are ways we can enhance our relationship to the complex systems that sustain us.

The KEEPING WATCH on HABITAT exhibition presents the work of artists who ask us to contemplate our separation from nature along with our longing to immerse ourselves in the sustenance that nature provides.  As curator for “HABITAT 2017,” I reached out to artists who could enhance the viewers’ multifarious experience of habitat, through the sensitive eye of photography, the spatial/tactile confrontation of installation, and a few undefinable hybrids.  This grouping of 14 artists is large enough to reveal a community, and that is not by accident.  In very different ways, they weave relationships between science and art, humanity and nature – some by the instigation of a persuasive curator, others by simply allowing the stories of their life’s work to unfold within the Keeping Watch platform.

The “apex predator” of urban/suburban development and its has-beens have created the vernacular of our southeastern landscape. In our eight-month growing season, there is always beauty, and it climbs over our mistakes with a strange forgiveness. Photographers Byron Baldwin, Cynthia Cole, Deborah Triplett, Meredith Hebden, Micah Cash, and William Wylie have created diptychs that speak to the interplay of nature and the man-made environment.

Delicate sculptural works by Natalie Abrams, mounted to the walls on both sides of the gallery, frame these photographic dichotomies. Both abstract and evocative, they represent the largest surrounding parcels of conserved land on the southern and northern edges of the Charlotte area: Anne Springs Close Greenway and Latta Plantation Nature Preserve.

Jennifer Angus re-presents the insect world in dynamic view as the Victorian designs of her wallpaper wrap around the gallery entrance and onto the walls behind the Center City front desk.

A significant focus for KEEPING WATCH on HABITAT is to break down the wall between the natural environment and the built environment by bringing the natural world inside the gallery. In monthly rotations, artists will create temporary floor installations using materials found in nature: “Carpet Beetle” by Jennifer Angus (Feb 24), ‘Skin Deep” by Shaun Cassidy with assistance from our neighbors at Urban Ministry (March 23), and new grass works by Alison Donohue (April 20).

On the monitor in the gallery we present the results of our community engagement –
earthworks created with the Urban Ministry Artworks 945 program and Nevins, Inc. center for developmentally disabled adults and by local schoolchildren through the curriculum created for KEEPING WATCH on HABITAT by the Center for STEM Education.

Weaving folklore and science, Heather Freeman’s colorful digital prints of native wildlife pairings hang in the Center City building lobby, while the front window case presents collaborative work by Madison Dunaway, Caleb Roenigk, and Terry Thirion entitled “Root Cause.”

Collectively, these artists offer us insightful, beautiful, and sometimes unorthodox vantage points from which to examine, celebrate, and critique our relationship to our own habitat. Representing the fourth year of environmental investigations with our many partners, KEEPING WATCH on HABITAT integrates the previous years’ focus on recycling, water quality, and air quality, urging us to show greater respect and care for the nature around us.