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Lofty Looks at the Land
The Islip Art Museum presents "Landescapism"

By Cary Maya

EAST ISLIP—Go to most dollar stores and you can find artificial fish artificially swimming in artificial water. A clever, sad representation of a fish tank that you can stare at and fantasize about fishing in a lake on a warm summer's day.

But have fun trying to fish in one. The Islip Art Museum is presenting an exhibit entitled "Landescapism," a collection of works by diverse artists about the effect that modern technology is having on the art of depicting nature.

"Nature isn't what it used to be," said Joseph Wolin, curator of the exhibit. "This show is about how artists are turning to artificial visions of nature in the face of real nature being debased, degraded and beleaguered from all sides."

Inspired by the way carpets are constructed in Morocco, artist Karen Azoulay uses strings that she dyed different colors to create her piece The Evening Canopy and the Sunset Hour.

Azoulay said it's not so much about an actual sunset but "more of a poetic symbol of what a sunset means, a warm beautiful thing that symbolizes a closing at the end of the day."

Oliver Warden's contribution consists of computer-generated photographs from video games, capturing the last frames before the games' conclusions, areas outside the gaming grid.

"For this series, I have moved off the designated, playable area in search of breakdowns in the map, artifacts disregarded or forgotten by the designers," the artist said.

In Lauren Warner's renderings of Yellowstone Park's erupting geysers, she eliminates all evidence of the crowds that typically visit those sites but has placed two wooden benches in front of the pieces to imply that observers do sit and witness the events.

Jude Miller's creations of crepe paper wildflower serve to illustrate the thin line between reality and representations of reality, and Rowena Dring's monumental landscapes, created by stitchng together hundreds of fabrics through a zigzagging technique, depict specific places that have inspired recognized male artists, in this series writers such as Strindberg and Yeats.

Inspired by the post-World War II belief that architecture and urban planning held the key to solving social problems, Blaise Drummond's sculpture, Project for a Quarry and a Mountain, 2003, displays a hole dug after mining and an adjacent mountain of debris at its side left as a result of the digging. The backdrop contains an inscription expressing the artist's opinion of such irresponsible building techniques.

John Gerrard's Flower Girl shows a figure enveloped in a Virginia Creeper, an invasive plant that has migrated from the Western hemisphere to all points of the globe, and Adam Shecter contributes a short projection of what appears to be an underwater environment with vague shapes that undulate to the sound of sonar humming.

Dan Torop offers a series of landscape photographs and computer animations as well as a computer screen that flashes an artificial landscape that visitors can manipulate to change the pitch of the moon, the rate that the raindrops fall, even the earth's gravitational pull.

Museum director Mary Lou Cohalan best sums up the message in the exhibit. "In the history of art, the landscape tradition is an old and venerated one that encourages artists to explore man's relationship to nature," she said. "It is unsettling that humans do not appear at all in 'Land escapism.' Perhaps that is a prescient message and warning for our 21st century."

This review appeared in The Suffolk County News, a weekly community paper with offices in Sayville, NY, on March 1, 2007.