In the hot, damp climate of the rainforest, no sooner than an animal or plant dies, it begins to decay, feeding the maggots and soil from which new life grows. The tropics are an uncompromisingly ugly environment. The notion of nature’s immutable beauty is a human construction; one, as Tenderpixel’s group show ‘Tropical Hangover’ reveals, perpetuated by art.
The video Rowena Harris has made for the exhibition webpage prefaces the idea that art produces – never merely reproduces – the wonder of the natural world. For ‘After Attenborough’ (2017), the gallery’s floor was painted blue, functioning as a special effects screen on to which footage of the jungle could be digitally rendered in post-production. Harris emphasises the work done after filming on nature documentaries by over-dubbing the video with a crude iPhone ‘birdsong’ alarm, satirising the heightening effects of Hans Zimmer’s majestic score and Attenborough’s beguiling narration in the recent, much-adored ‘Planet Earth II’ (2016).
Continuing in the same vein, in the gallery, Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost presents ‘Swallow’ (2013), a pastiche of a pornography movie, featuring nudes writhing in a river, soft focus shots of gaping mouths and a climactic finale of a gushing waterfall. As porn is a voyeuristic parody of sex, the camera creates a heightened picture of nature for the viewer’s enjoyment.
Suzanne Treister’s ‘HFT/The Gardener’ (2014-2015) incisively explores the parallel between bodily pleasure and environmental abuse. The series comprises of twenty images of psychoactive plants paired with companies in the Financial Times Global 500 Index. The work is also accompanied by a fictional story in the exhibition leaflet about a trader who uses natural highs to analyse alternative patterns in the market. Treister’s images draw comparisons between the toxicity of drugs and that of industrial multi-nationals. One frame depicts ‘Datura Stramonium’ AKA ‘Devil’s snare’, a powerful hallucinogenic, that if consumed in excessive amounts can result in death. Treister pairs this potentially devastating substance with the energy conglomerate Exxon Mobil, whose ex-CEO, Rex Tillerson, was appointed US Secretary of State by Donald Trump – a climate change denier. The implication of Treister’s work is that by seeing the earth as a resource to tap for human pleasure and gain we do irreparable damage to it. Salvatore Arancio’s ‘Glue Pour I’ (2015), a shiny black mass of resin set against the marine blue floor, conjures a dirty great oil spill and demonstrates what happens when energy companies are deregulated to drive profit. It’s worth noting that Arancio exhibited similar sculptures in pools of black liquid at his 2016 solo show at the Kunsthalle Winterthur.
Though Arancio’s sculptures veer somewhat from the exhibition’s geographic theme of the rainforest towards the oceanic, the suggestion of an industrial disaster provides a sobering end to the drug and sex fuelled party. As the title of the show suggests, the festivities have ended and what remains is a filthy hangover and post-party, post-natural wasteland – a condition captured in Arancio’s scatological sculptures. ‘Feeder’ (2015) resembles a swollen, churning stomach or cloud of pollution, while the ‘Sleep Dealer’ (2015) looks like a festering soiled condom or mound of industrial waste. Like the inevitability of a hangover after a night’s fun, if the natural world continues to be thought of as resource for human pleasure, disaster will surely be forthcoming. Having established nature’s beauty is a construction of art, then it’s destruction has the potential to be a consequence of human avarice.