Until recently massive urbanization seemed like an inevitability. Cities were growing larger at an incredible rate and the cityscape occupied a place in the art-historical lexicon once held by idyllic landscapes and pastoral paintings. A sudden fascination with solitude and the countryside caused a rural housing boom, inflationary effects, and subsequent market lull. A generational fantasy emerged alongside this supposed great migration and the prospect of millennial homeownership. We would be moving to the country and working from home, simultaneously immersed into a futuristic digital sphere and the unspoiled wilderness. This escapist ideal proved as intangible as the country cabins, and those that fell victim to the delusion suddenly faced insurmountable commutes, untenable mortgage payments, and skyrocketing city rents.
The artists in Big Country address this fantastical notion that there exists a place outside the range of human influence and our instinctive, paradoxical impulse to dwell in it as a creative space. Working with supposedly natural elements in ways that often show the physical processes of manipulation, these artists reflect on the dubious distinctions between artificiality and natural life, and the mythologies imposed on the idea of nature itself through the process of artistic production. Digitally generated anthropomorphic fieldmice figurines carelessly imbibe amidst glowing plastic swamp-marsh and ruined, classical architecture. Micro-ecologies of synthetic materials mimic staged environmental terrains. Ancient and modern casting techniques are employed to reproduce plant and animal parts into objects of human reflection. The digital, the natural, and the humanmade become indistinguishable in many of these works as each artist address the role of human impact within the larger setting of plant, animal, and mechanical habitats. Many symbolic contradictions emerge in this examination of the relationship between artmaking and purity like the stunning resonance of a rifle shot and the intrusive beauty of a country road.
Although the idea of nature as an unspoiled resource will always exist in cultural discourse, it’s clear that artmaking, in whatever form, mixes its hands with the soil. Civilization and the natural world are not oppositions. They are hopelessly intertwined.