In the deep wintertime – on the eve of a colossal snowstorm – you would not imagine half a dozen artists creating work based on nature in the middle of the Bronx. Yet six artists – Manuel Acevedo, Zachary Fabri, Asuka Hishiki, Maria Hupfield, Paloma McGregor and Linda Stillman – are facing the dormant winter landscape at Wave Hill, a twenty-eight-acre public garden and cultural center in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, and initiating works inspired by their surroundings as part of a six week Winter Workshop Program.
Generations removed from Earth Works and Land Art, these artists’ objects are smaller in scale and less globally political and theoretical than the exploration in the vast terrain of the American landscape that occupied Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt, Robert Smithson and Walter de Maria in the 1960s and 1970s. Instead, mirroring a preoccupation by some artists today whose work dwells in memories and personal experience, the Wave Hill group looks inward and uses keen observation as a source in their work. If the artists find materials such as branches, dried flowers, or holly leaves on the Wave Hill grounds and in its greenhouse, some have also trolled the surrounding neighborhoods to locate tossed soda bottles or other urban castoffs. Either way, they use these materials to summon intimate, individual history.
Every day, Linda Stillman receives a small collection of colorful dropped flower heads from the Wave Hill greenhouse gardeners. Stillman rubs the blossoms to make stains for works on paper. The Flower Diary becomes a colloquial recording of this regular exchange between a horticulturist and an artist. Stillman has created diaries before – gardens that she planted and cultivated in upstate New York in 2001 formed a calendar grid to mark the monthly growth and the ultimate degradation of annuals and herbs. The August garden was at the height of ripeness and intense color while, by November, the site was overgrown and bleak. The artist said that her investigation of gardens has connected her projects across a decade. “Thematically, they are linked as they both change, fade and die, an important concept in most of my work,” according to Stillman.
It is the stages of the progression of nature that have also influenced Asuka Hishiki. The watercolor painter conceived a three-dimensional collage of hundreds of vellum Pink-Tipped Satyr butterflies resting in a two-dimensional tree drawn in graphite for her Wave Hill residency. Butterfly Tree measures 7 feet 5 inches x 3 feet 6 inches, and documents the painstaking recording of a butterfly’s movements. Hishiki affixed each butterfly with specimen pins to the paper ground. If the viewer thinks that this work is in homage to a rabble of active butterflies, they may be incorrect. Rather, the red, pink and beige insects are preserved examples of the abundance of a species in anticipation of extinction. “My main theme is the celebration of the beauty of nature,” Hishiki wrote in an email. However… many species are facing extinction and, by contrast, a few kinds — including human beings — are increasing. This is always here on my mind.” The particular butterfly in Hishiki’s work was her “first love,” an insect she was fascinated with as a child.
If Hishiki has scoured memories for subject matter in Butterfly Tree, Zachary Fabri has combed the local neighborhoods for different mediums – all with an eye to finding castoff objects he can paint with a white stripe to mimic the arborist practice of whitewashing the bottom of tree trunks. Fabri explained that while walking around the grounds, he was “baffled” to observe the ring of white latex paint circling many trees. It is a practical, protective coat meant to insulate bark against sunscald, insect infestation and small animals. But Fabri found a layer of meaning in this additional, applied skin and he anticipates using this visual cue to make new work. “The painted white ring implies care and consideration for the tree,” Fabri stated. “I wondered if I could have a similar relationship with objects – a certain intimacy with their material properties.” The artist has now gathered objects on the streets surrounding Wave Hill including latex and work gloves, a kitchen cabinet door, a green umbrella, and a heart-shaped candle to serve as materials for his work. “It is important that the white paint highlight the formal properties while also allowing the urban narrative to remain,” he explained.