An idiosyncratic quality of romanticists is the wedding of personal psychology to material. My artificial landscapes are visually exuberant, but beneath the veneer of beauty I reveal concerns with death, as it pertains not merely to humans but to the natural realm as well. Beginning with my sculpture, The Fairest of Them All, I show a preoccupation with entropy, or more specifically the processes of growth and decay. When I was conceptualizing this sculpture, I was thinking about the sadness of realizing that all beauty and all life is ephemeral. At the time, I was paying close attention to some rose bushes outside my apartment. In the midst of all this vibrant red and potent beauty, one could see clusters of dark death and decay. These fading flowers were beautiful in their way, but I found the contrast between life and death impactful. I had a psychic connection to what I was observing, perhaps because the site physically manifested the idea that life and all we that we love in it, is only temporary.
In the initial stages of this project I wanted butterflies to symbolize the ephemerality of life. The butterflies are incorporated throughout the sculpture. Butterflies are fragile creatures with very brief life cycles. Later during the creative process, I incorporated artificial flowers. The difference in the accumulation of flowers on the sculpture, from top to bottom, and also the difference in the flowers’ colors, from bright and multicolored ones to dark ones, suggests my preoccupation with life and death transitions. The life and death cycle is captured in a single prop that could belong to a bigger room. When looking at the sculpture, one could imagine the narrative from which it is extracted. Perhaps in the story, a character walks into a normal room but suddenly an invisible force takes over the human-scaled mirror, making it sprout a frame of wild and artificial flowers. The choice to obscure much of the mirror’s reflective surface with an opaque orange tint denies viewers the opportunity to see their reflections. This means that, in the presence of my sculpture, we are invited to look outside ourselves in relation to nature’s processes and life cycles. The structure has a funereal presence because of its shape and scale. Nature is anthropomorphized in this project because it has a body that parallels our own. The message of the sculpture is that nature reflects us, or more specifically, our psychologies. As mentioned, it is a Romanticist idea that looking upon nature helps us achieve self-understanding. This sculpture emphasizes a Deep Ecology idea. In the essay, “Self-Realization: An Ecological Approach to Being in the World ”contained in the book The Deep Ecology Movement, philosophical founder Arne Naess, states one principle of this philosophical movement, the concept of the ecological self that requires humans to think of themselves as being “…in, of and for Nature…”[i] My title, The Fairest of Them All, requires an explanation. In the Grimm’s fairytale, Snow White, a witch is obsessed about being the most beautiful person in the kingdom. She asks her magic mirror on multiple occasions, “mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?” The queen is enraged when the mirror responds that her own stepdaughter is the most beautiful within the land. This is so distressing to the queen that she sends one of her messengers to kill Snow White. The messenger is unable to do this and instead brings back a pig’s heart as “proof” of the slaying. In a way, we can think of the queen as a symbolic representation of our own culture. She is infatuated with her own appearance similar to our societal anthropocentrism, unable to feel or sympathize with the other life forms of the natural realm that are really extensions of our own family. In my work it is neither the queen nor Snow White who is the fairest, but rather the natural realm.
When Snow White is warned never to come back to the kingdom because she will be killed, she runs off into the woods in despair. In many depictions of the story, both in film and the animated cartoon Disney version, nature initially takes on a very scary presence. Trees turn into figures whose branch-arms reach out to grasp her. These woods are really just a projection of Snow White’s state of mind. She feels scared, alone, and in danger. In the latest film version, Snow White and the Huntsman, from 2012, we see a reciprocal exchange take place between Snow White and a giant forest troll whose skin is textured like a tree trunk. The troll, disturbed in its sleep by Snow White and a messenger, sets out to kill them both. Snow White confronts and screams at the creature causing him to turn away calmly. In the act of communicating with this troll, she recognizes a being that she must deal with in order to remain safe. Nature, then, is not an enemy that must be destroyed at all cost. In most versions of the film, nature is kinder to her after she meets and befriends the dwarfs because she feels at ease in her new home. This story is very much about the differences between inner and outer beauty. Although the queen is beautiful on the outside, her conceit makes her pitifully despicable. Snow White is more beautiful because her inner character is more beautiful. This is also demonstrated in the way she relates to animals. When Snow White is put under the queen’s spell of eternal sleep, the animals think she is dead and they weep.
The strategy to represent darker ideas through visually pleasing representations is a tactic employed by many contemporary artists. Even though my sculpture The Fairest of Them All is partially about death and certainly about understanding ourselves in relation to nature, there is nothing scary about the sculpture upon first glance. Contrarily, viewers might be attracted to the abundance of life and color that reflects otherworldly splendor. Upon closer inspection, however, we see that this artificial nature has gone awry. It is a grotesque nature, spilling its guts and dying, but expressed in a palette of acidic oranges, saccharine pinks, and bonbon flesh. We get visual overload, like eating too much candy at once.