Consuming ourselves to death: The art of Tim Berg & Rebekah Myers
by Eleanor Heartney
“The jungle ride at Disney World may in fact be more real to most people than the real jungle in the Amazon. . . . More and more people are becoming more comfortable in the simulated world than in the real one.”
Peter Halley describes a world in which nature has apparently been absorbed into human artifice – no more fearsome or unpredictable than a cuddly teddy bear or a set of plastic reptiles picked up at the gift shop of the local natural history museum. But outside the safety of gift shops and amusement parks, nature is reacting badly to our blithe interventions. Global warming threatens to bring on climate change that could wipe out coastal communities and turn fertile fields into arid deserts. Penguins are disappearing in Antarctica, polar bears are drowning as ice floes melt and scientists estimate that up to a million of the earth’s species may disappear in the next fifty years.
In this exhibition, Tim Berg and Rebekah Myers address this disconnect between our reassuring fantasies of nature and the much more alarming reality. They present witty sculptural installations that adopt the language of children’s toys and hobby shop kitsch only to turn their message of comfortable accommodation upside down. They fashion familiar creatures out of highly glazed clay, fiberglass, plastic, wood, and styrofoam, displaying them in tableaux that underscore their, and ultimately our own, fragility. Previous works have included shiny pink penguins set on eroding ceramic ice floes and inflatable plastic killer whales resting on ornamental wooden bases. Juxtaposed against these creatures are fabricated ice cream sandwiches, half eaten popsicles and ice cream cones, emblems of our mindless consumption. Realized with the shiny, ingratiating sheen of mass produced objects, these sculptures underscore our careless disregard for nature’s fate and suggest a distressing similarity in the way we treat our personal possessions and the often endangered flora and fauna of the natural world. The titles of these works underscore the faux reassurance they represent. Taken from familiar aphorisms, phrases like Hope Springs Eternal and Every Cloud has a Silver Lining have a double edge when uttered in the context of our endangered environment.
This show is titled All good things. . . , a phrase whose unstated ending is “must come to an end”. The individual works, which have equally ominous titles, were inspired in part by a set of phrases Berg has used in previous works:
Among the disappearing things here are dinosaurs, ice cream cookie sandwiches, and souvenirs sold in a gift shop style display at the entrance of the gallery. Each disappears in a different way - a set of five bright red brontosauruses, aptly titled Between a Rock (again the rest of the phrase lingers in the air) face a large styrofoam meteorite, thus illustrating one current theory about the cause of their extinction. A second dinosaur themed work, Bones of Contention, features ceramic bones casts from a museum replica of a dinosaur skeleton. These are arranged tastefully in a beautifully crafted walnut chest. Cast in earthenware and lustered with gold, these seductive bones become reminders of the way we fetishize the relics of things that have otherwise disappeared from our lives or from the world. While these dinosaur works suggests disappearances for which we are not responsible, Eat your Heart Out brings us to the last possibility listed above. Here a set of monumental ice cream sandwiches and an empty wrapper serve as surrogates for the vanished dinosaurs and the bones that they have left behind. The show is rounded out with the souvenir shop, in which small scale versions of the objects above will literally disappear as they are purchased.
Sometimes things disappear as the result of an accident.
Sometimes neglect causes things to disappear.
Sometimes things are intentionally made to disappear.
With this show, Berg and Myers invite us to contemplate the implications of our thoughtless consumption patterns. Instead of regarding ourselves as part of a larger ecosystem, we tend to treat nature instrumentally. Trees, wild animals and natural vistas exist in our imaginations as extensions of ourselves, as familiar and invisible as the offerings in a shop window or the decorative objects that surround us at home. The problem, as this witty show points out, is that nature is not just a theatrical backdrop. It is an inseparable part of our existence, and if it disappears, ultimately so do we.