Nature imitating man

When confronted by an upholstered bear, act like a shadow.
When confronted by an upholstered bear, act like a shadow.

fable @ Agnes Etherington

Edgy, raw, brilliantly ironic and satirical, artist Eric Edson’s exhibition fable is a breath of fresh air in the sometimes overwhelming world of contemporary art.

On display at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre until Aug. 29, fable is an exploration of the narrative function of nature as it exists and is transformed by culture. Individually the works are interesting, but together, the collection creates a profound and enlightening statement of the human impact on nature.

Two traditional landscapes, “The Valley” from 1909 by Archibald Brown and “Landscape with Figures Illustrating Aesop’s Fable of the Sun and the Wind” from the 1600s by Gaspard Dughet accompany the exhibit in an effort to demonstrate a visual history of Edson’s more recent work.

The traditional works flank two mounted panels of fabric: a mauve and purple leopard print on polar fleece, and a yellow ochre floral jacquard. Though minimalist, these patterned panels illustrate the ways humans have taken nature and modified it for our own pleasure.

Above these panels and on the adjacent wall, pale grey silhouettes of hunting trophies are painted on the walls of the gallery as haunting reminders of the culture of destroying beautiful animals for sport.

On another wall hangs a very large, beautifully polished slab of wood in an undistinguishable animal shape. Mounted on the lower left of the main body is a deer horn surrounded by fur that has been dyed pink and affixed to the wood with upholstery tacks. A mirror reflecting the image of another work in the exhibition is mounted on the right of the main body of the sculpture. The incongruity and surrealism of this work is both disturbing and captivating.

Sitting in the middle of the gallery, a large sculpture of a bear stands atop a human-like cut-out. The bear—almost entirely covered in a red and white floral-patterned fabric and red trim represents both danger and purity, while the human, an almost two-dimensional figure painted in black is flat, soulless and evil. The human perception of the bear as aggressor is cleverly displayed, but in reality it is our disrespect for habitat and character that brings us into contact with innocent wild animals, creating potentially dangerous situations.

The final work of fable examines issues of struggle and dysfunction through the projected image of a walking wind-up toy elephant. A large dry-walled structure with raw circular cut-outs houses a projector which rotates, allowing the image of the elephant to be projected on the walls of the gallery as if it were hobbling across the surfaces.

Because Edson does not provide titles or any information for the work displayed, he allows for personal interpretation and introspection.

The images that assault the viewer are ironic, clever and beautiful. The use of fabrics and image projection demonstrates the human tendency to structure nature and make it repetitive. The modification of colour and texture reveals the human preoccupation with transforming nature to fulfill our desires with little or no regard to the beauty and chaos of the natural world.

Edson’s wonderfully surreal exhibition exposes human interpretations of nature as nothing other than a fable.

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