“The Department of Human and Natural Services” Exhibition


poster for “The Department of Human and Natural Services” Exhibition

This event has ended.

NURTUREart presents The Department of Human and Natural Services, a group exhibition curated by Mariel Villeré and featuring artists Nancy Nowacek, Allison Rowe, Li Sumpter, and the Environmental Performance Agency (EPA): Catherine Grau, andrea haenggi, Ellie Irons, and Christopher Kennedy. The Department of Human and Natural Services exhibits alternative arrangements of the bureaucracy surrounding climate change and possibilities to reclaim agency for environmental justice and resilience.

Transforming the gallery into a site for performance and as a departure point for collaborative production, The Department of Human and Natural Services aims to foster trust, experimentation, and open dialogue. The exhibition puts forward the role of artists in activism and proposes creative strategies in response to the current course of global warming and its myriad effects on environmental, political, and emotional levels. If the multiscalar and multirelational “disconnect” is the primary contributor to the ecological crisis and its denial, as suggested by philosopher Bruno Latour, artists in the exhibition deal inherently with connection—between humans, between humans and other species (plant and animal), and between disciplinary methodologies—as a gesture towards reparation and repair. Rather than in the artist’s studio, most of this work is done directly in communities, making face-to-face connections to address immediate human needs, to collaboratively imagine a better or sustained future, and to mobilize. The Department’s office is therefore a repository, a stopover, and a meeting place.

Of the many artists and creative activists addressing today’s climate emergency, those represented here expand contemporary discourse on the anthropocene, posthuman, nonhuman, and more-than-human. The EPA positions plants, specifically weeds, as sentient beings and agents for epistemological revolution; the group invites visitors to collect data, co-produce ecological knowledge, and think more holistically about and foster care for the living things affected by climate change. Through direct engagement and collaborative performance, the choreographer and visual and performing artists that comprise the EPA prompt viewers and participants to shift away from an anthropocentric worldview, encouraging a thoughtful consideration of interspecies ethics. Data, findings, and speculative thinking resulting from their Embodied Scientist Training will be recorded over the course of the exhibition on the suits visitors are invited to wear for the Emergent Plantocene Clean-Up.

Li Sumpter situates humans within the cosmic scale and writes myths and science fiction as a world-building (or rebuilding) practice to work through systemic societal problems such as economic inequality and racial injustice. Sumpter’s Boom 4 Real Escape Pod is a survival kit for mythological and real-to-life emergencies, Graffiti in the Grass promotes creative resistance and community readiness across narrative platforms, and the Oracle Box collects impressions and aspirations.

Over the course of planning and designing her project Citizen Bridge, a participatory, collective infrastructure project to realize a pedestrian crossing over Buttermilk Channel between Brooklyn and Governors Island, Nancy Nowacek has developed a discursive project. Citizen Bridge addresses sea level rise, resistance, reclaiming the waterways as public space, and creating bridges between people and communities. The Department displays the conference calls made, measurements taken, calendars followed, agreements signed, and business cards collected since 2012, all activities that continue and together demonstrate the networks and layers of an artist’s labor by way of visual ephemera.

Allison Rowe is connected to the Department by way of telephone, offering visitors an ear to listen to their hopes and fears as well as share the knowledge she has gained through her ongoing project Trying to Talk to Climate Change Researchers About the Future and their Feelings. Visitors are invited to draw in response to their conversation with Allison and leave their work as part of the exhibition files. Rowe, however, may not always be available, therefore placing visitors on an “emotional hold,” and weaving concepts of feminism, labor, and caretaking into the environmental crisis. Additionally, Rowe’s Geologic Time visualizes the literal reshaping of the earth’s geology by human impact over the past 8,000 years. Together, the exhibiting artists respond to and infiltrate conventional systems by way of their process-based aesthetic projects to catalyze change.

Staged as a government office with records and artifacts of past investigative work as well as survival kits and tools for citizen science and expanded communication, the exhibition suggests nontraditional workspaces for hybrid and innovative practices. Perhaps the traditional office is no longer of service for the reconfigured conditions we face, for challenges so enormous. In demonstrating the range of work that artists take on, sometimes resembling scientific research, interpretation, and even administrative work, the exhibition puts forth the potential of artists to influence governance and policy making within existing structures. Artists are increasingly being embedded in schools and even bureaucratic spaces. What might we be able to achieve if we moved the cubicle from the office to the expanded field? Rather than look away or sink into melancholy, artists in The Department of Human and Natural Services encourage us to see, hear, and feel in order to think clearly and act swiftly on an individual level, which when aggregated, could in fact shift the course and stabilize our planetary home.



from April 20, 2019 to May 19, 2019

Opening Reception on 2019-04-19 from 19:00 to 21:00

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