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Art Exhibit Review
Treading Loudly
Four artists use their work to convey how humans are altering the environment.

When she looks out the window of her new Los Angeles apartment, artist Kim Abeles is distressed that her view of the San Gabriel Mountain (15 miles north) is obscured by a curtain of smog. Similarly, Long Island artist Barbara Roux is unnerved during walks through the woods near her home, where she now finds fresh tree stumps. Like many other artists, Abeles and Roux are inspired by their surroundings—so it’s fitting that their current work centers on humans’ impact on the environment. Now their pieces and those of two other artists are on display at the aptly named “Eco-Footprint” exhibit, at Manhattan’s Brenda Taylor Gallery.

A person’s “ecological footprint” is his or her demand on nature for food, shelter, and consumer needs. In other words, it’s a measure of the balance between human consumption and the earth’s ability to supply the needed resources. The Eco-Footprint exhibit seeks not to make a political statement, says curator Lucas Natali, but to explore the concepts of the ecological footprint and human separation from the natural environment.

Kim Abeles/The Brenda Taylor Gallery

Abeles’s “Smog Collectors” series, of which one piece is on display in this exhibit, focuses on air quality in California. To create the pieces in her collection, she places stencils on translucent or opaque materials on the roof of her apartment building for about 30 days, letting the heavy, polluted air settle. The result is an image left by the smog often trapped in the city. The haunting, almost alien-like stenciled gas mask made up of dingy brown particles presented in a floating frame seen at the Brenda Taylor Gallery is a startling representation of California’s air pollution problem.

“People still insist in Los Angeles that it’s fog,” Abeles says. “I don’t know why it takes a piece of art to make the argument clear. I suppose some people are still in this point of denial.”

Barbara Roux/Brenda Taylor Gallery

Self-proclaimed “conservation artist” Roux scours the woods near her home in search of something “surprising”—be it moss growing on the wrong side of a tree or an out-of-place moth—focusing on what she calls “small habitat niches.” Her photography has a stripped-down, exposed quality that provides the viewer with a beautiful image of nature while also emphasizing the importance of the ecosystem presented. For her piece “As the Crow Flies,” Roux painted a bird on a piece of glass and waited for the sun to set just enough to produce the shadow and snap the black-and-white photo. The image also seems ironic in its deception—a shadow that could have been cast by a real bird is a human-made illusion.

James Gillispie/Brenda Taylor Gallery

Painter James Gillispie’s contributions to the exhibit reveal “a duality of interior and exterior and order and chaos”—and ultimately a struggle between nature and human impact, he says. Gillispie says he was forced to think of landscapes in a different way after spending time in a cabin in Gloucester, Massachusetts. His diptych “Silence/Violence” pairs oil paintings of two different scenes from inside the cabin. The first shows an ordered pile of rocks in a cone shape with organized sticks in the foreground. The second shows the rocks and twigs mixed together in a messy pile in the corner of the room. In both paintings, the scene outside is serene—a quiet, undisturbed forest. These paintings exemplify Gillispie’s idea that while humans’ attempts to control nature can end in failure, nature exists in its own constant state of order and organization without human interference.

Joseph Phillips/Brenda Taylor Gallery

Similarly, artist Joseph Phillips’s work shows how suburban society has “commodified” the American landscape by deconstructing diverse ecosystems into uniform parking lots and front lawns for the purpose of human efficiency. His series of gouache, ink, and graphite on paper shows hunks of land with nondescript commercial landscaping, beach scenes, or pathways that are seemingly cut like cookies from suburban areas in the United States.

The Eco-footprint exhibit will make even environmentally apathetic viewers stop and think. “From an appreciation and an understanding, a desire to protect will follow,” Roux says—a sentiment that echoes throughout the art-laden walls of the Brenda Taylor Gallery.

Dates: Now through November 10, 2007
Location: Brenda Taylor Gallery
511 West 25th Street, #401
New York, NY 10001
Hours: Open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Telephone: 212-463-7166
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