John Lyall

Vicki Kerr, John Lyall, Boyd Webb

5 November - 29 November 1997

Curated by Nigel Clark; supported by Dunedin Public Art Gallery

The contemporary experience of nature is inherently paradoxical. On the one hand, we are aware that nature is in retreat, that species and ecosystems are disappearing before the drive for development. On the other hand, nature is on the advance as technology brings new forms of representation, new modes of replication, and even entirely novel living things into being. The title—alt.nature—is shorthand for these accelerating processes of altering nature and all the ecological concern they provoke. It also refers to the discussion groups with 'alternative' themes that proliferate in internet culture, where new modes of manipulating bodies and beings are often enthusiastically received. Between the pure and unmediated nature that some ecologists still dream about, and the free-floating mix-and-match ecologies of cyberculture, lies a more ambiguous zone, where media and matter have long been entangled. It is here, in this zone of complexity and compromise, that art can play an important role. alt.nature brings together three New Zealand artists who each have a take on the current global predicament of nature.

Vicki Kerr's looped video work draws us into a world of genetic manipulation where the fragments of living beings detach and circulate. In this ghostly domain, she literally brings to life issues about the relationship between originals and copies that have long concerned artists. Our fellow creatures are also present as multiple copies in the photographs of Boyd Webb. Somewhere in the process of technologically remaking the planet and its beings the living substance of these animals has been lost—they endure only as glossy, synthetic surfaces.Yet this world of vanishings and artificial resurrections is not without its own enchantment. In John Lyall's installed photographs, the global circulation of ideas and images of nature is brought back to Earth on our own particular part of the planet. Although digital simulation may be the ultimate in abstraction, there is still a sense in which its floating icons must come to terms with the material spaces in which they touch down.