Nature Morte and the Simulated Garden
An installation by Marguerite Perret and Bruce Scherting
In collaboration with Betsy Knabe Roe
This installation was made possible by a generous gift to the Hall Center for the Humanities from Elizabeth Schultz, KU Professor of English emerita.
Niche is a mixed media art installation by Marguerite Perret, Bruce Scherting and Betsy Knabe Roe. The word "niche" is from the old French for nest. In contemporary usage, it can refer to the place an organism occupies in an ecosystem, or the place a product holds in what marketing professionals sometimes call the consumer ecosystem. The exhibition Niche encompasses both associations. The work on display is a hybrid of consumer culture and the natural world.
In On Photography (1977), Susan Sontag noted, “Nature in America has always been suspect, on the defensive, cannibalized by progress. In America, every specimen becomes a relic.” As our perception of nature is increasingly mediated by economics, mass media and consumer culture, our encounter of the natural world is more and more removed from direct experience. At the same time, market-driven economic land management policies encourage sprawl, habitat fragmentation and unregulated commercial development of natural resources undermining the healthy and sustainable ecosystems that support all life, including our own. Paradoxically, we have developed a nostalgia for nature — a desire that can be marketed to — while the real thing is being consumed to exhaustion.
Throughout the installation, images evoking the tree of life as a symbolic construct and as an illustration of natural selection pervade the installation. The result is suggestive of a strange fairy tale where the beautiful and peculiar occupy the same space. Upon entering the main room, a colonnade of tree-like forms radiate from the center columns. These “trees” mimic the natural but retain their material PVC pipe characteristics. On either side of the room roots formed from plastic shopping bags appear to be growing through the walls. In an alcove, a water buffalo breaks through a river of bottled water. A fabric curtain with a pattern based on the historic Panorama at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum, framed by graphics of housing developments, separates the main room from the apse. Inside a series of faux stained glass windows combine photographs of specimens from the Natural History Museum with reconfigured icons of development, electrical poles, housing developments and construction sites.
Niche is an installation in flux. Subtle additions will be added to the exhibition throughout the year. These include but are not limited to the installation of plastic bottle “flowers” and a display case of real and synthetic specimens.