Robert S Mattison

From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, technological manipulation of the natural world held the promise of a paradise that now seems ever more remote. Increasingly, individuals in many disciplines look to nature’s own systems for models of renewal, harmony, and the balance of life forces that technology alone seems unable to provide. They believe that understanding nature and working within its systems will yield far better results than intrusive manipulation. Michele Brody’s art provides a metaphor for this belief.

Jardin and Prairie Preserve are room-scale environments that encourage us to contemplate both the sublime beauty of nature and the particulars of its systems of growth and decay. Both works consist of grids, one of tall glass vials and the other of glass bottles placed on steel rods of varying heights. Each vial and bottle contains water with sprouting grass seeds. While the grids suggest organizational systems, the random heights of the rods and the differing water levels in the vials refer to unpredictable variables in the natural world. Each of the containers is placed below a halogen light that spotlights it as though being studied in a scientific laboratory. At the same time, those lights give the overall room a sparkling glow that resembles the experience of walking through a forest after rain. Brody’s pieces embody nature’s cycles because they begin with optimistic anticipation of the germination of the grasses. Over time the seeds will sprout, grasses will grow, and many will either mold or dry up. The evolution of the pieces emphasizes both the delicate balance necessary for the plants to thrive and the inevitability of growth and decay in the natural world.

Robert S. Mattison
Marshall R. Metzgar Professor of Art History
Lafayette College

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