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“Dirt in our Hands”

Art and Nature Collide

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Artists have always been influenced by nature and incorporated aspects of nature in their work. In the last hundred years the role of nature has played a rather prominent role in modern and contemporary art either through its holistic appreciation or its outright rejection. The modern movement in many ways was designed to face toward the city and industrial progress, but many modernist artists such as the many modern masters coming out of Black Mountain College appreciated the need for being surround by nature, and even being isolated within it, to hone their ideas no matter how modern into reality. In the midwest, there has always been a predilection toward the natural environment within the arts as we are many times surrounded by vast expanses of it, but rarely do we see artists whose practices are not typically dictated by nature (plein air, etc) submerse themselves within it to create new bodies of work.

Thankfully, Jennifer Ford Art presents “Dirt in Our Hands”, a fine art exhibition exploring the spiritual connection between humans and the natural world, currently on view through mid-August. This exhibition includes work by Julie Wall, Daniel Dienelt, Jason Swisher, Dennis Hettler, Justine Hettler, and Ashley Beatty-Kopang, which was all produced during trips to public parks, nature preserves, and private properties throughout Indiana over the last year. This body of work was produced both independently and collectively as the artists used these trips into nature to talk about their work with one another as well, and further understand their own motivations and processes. As Jennifer Ford Art explains so well, “ Each artist developed a connection with nature that inspired them to create work that explores the relationship between human, animal, and plant life.” These connections are very clear in their work which includes physical specimens taken from nature, as well as documentation of their presence being immersed.

The work itself exhibited in “Dirt in our Hands” is primarily photography, sculpture, painting, and printmaking, with variations on these methods. Julie Wall, known to incorporate aspects of nature in her work, displayed an impressive array of new works including a vinyl wallpaper installation based off of the cross section of an atypical tree trunk, specimen jar totemic sculptures including animal skulls, and readymade constructions pairing funghi with woodworking techniques. In “Funghal Bloom #3”, Wall uses acrylic and aerosol paints to manipulate and accentuate the natural forms within the native funghi, creating large almost floral constructions . “Smelted Skull Specimen #4”, made of a skunk skull, found lichen, found rock, and acrylic paint is an example of almost ritualistic or shamanic sculptural elements in Wall’s new body of work which bring together humanity and nature in interesting ways.

Daniel Dienelt, known for his unique form of photography and painting presents new forms of his work in the form of new digital photography and paintings which include specimens from the hikes added to them in almost Rauschenberg-like constructions. Dienelt’s photography is formed with images augmented through the use of prisms and other physical manipulations of light while documenting the natural places which are the subject of his new work. Works like Dienelt’s “Innocence and Transgressions” series of photographs when viewed as an installation create a compelling narrative of immersion and exploration of natural environments through the lens of spirituality, folklore, and human psychological responses to our place within natural environments. In the “Euclidian’s Senate of Deities” series of constructions, Dienelt compares human responses to the natural, spiritual, and technological worlds through the use of equilateral triangles and other high geometric principles as well as nods toward animism.

Dennis Hettler’s contributions to “Dirt In our Hands” include sculptural works which challenge the distinctions between drawing, painting, and printmaking, as well as more traditional abstracted monotypes. Works like “Movement III”, constructed with pieces of tinted plexiglass built upright into two parallel panes, each with ink added in organic abstracted forms producing very compelling experiences as the viewer shifts the perspective between both planes as they move around them. Justine Hettler included intimate drawings of nature akin to scientific journals or diagrammatic educational imagery.

Ashley Beatty-Kopang’s photography included in the exhibition includes some departures as well as some work more reminiscent of the artist, including large format photographs, a lightbox, and photo-transfers. Beatty-Kopang’s work included an intimate series of photographs which are a study of a skull situated within environmental spaces. These images evoke a sense of longing or melancholy which is also a departure from this viewer’s understanding of Beatty-Kopang’s work. This work brings a new dimension to the exhibition which includes something of mourning or loss, perhaps for a loss of man’s place within the natural world, or a loss of so much of the natural world that we have come from.

Jason Swisher’s work of large format photographs printed on paper and hung using non-traditional techniques of handmade walnut strips of wood on either end give his work a very asian inspired feeling, especially his vertically oriented images showing deep volumes of space filled with trees, bodies of water, and in some cases, brief references of the manmade.

Jennifer Ford Art poignantly includes, “Indiana audiences will feel both a sense of comfort and displacement at the encounter of nature thoughtfully curated in the traditional white box atmosphere of an art gallery. Technology acts as the mediator between art and nature, however the spiritual nature of man in the midst of these diametrically opposed elements passes through the atmosphere of the exhibition.” Through this mediation of technology and humanity, “Dirt In Our Hands” finds new ground for local audiences to build a relationship with nature.

For More Information:
“Dirt In Our Hands”
Jennifer Ford Art
July 14 – August 13, 2016

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