A series of lush, fluid watercolor and graphite amalgamations of flora and fauna are at the heart of My Garden Pets, a major new installation by New York-based artist Emilie Clark at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden
(BBG). In the exhibitionon view from March 6 through May 23, 2010 as a featured presentation of BBGs 2010 Centennial CelebrationClark explores the work of the 19th-century American naturalist, Mary Treat, and the concept of the beneficial insect.
To create this body of work, Clark spent four months on site at the Garden as its first artist-in-residence, researching in its libraries and talking to BBG horticulturalists, scientists, and other staff members. Her project deftly combines works on paper in which galls, thorns, canes, beetles, aphids, nematodes, leaves and pods flow in and out of each other, in accumulation and transformation, with an audio piece drawn from the extensive correspondences between Treat and Charles Darwin and Asa Gray. In the tradition of the natural history museum, display cases will contain a variety of plant specimens sent by Treat to Harvard University, facsimiles of original correspondence, and the artists mapping of her process. A Victorian terrarium and armchair will complete the installation.
The exhibition title refers to a treatise on beneficial insects penned by Treat in 1887, describing a kind of unwitting cross-species collaboration, when insects help plants survive the attacks of their predators. My Garden Pets links Treats specific expertise in beneficial insects to the larger institution of the scientific correspondence, exploring the ways in which Treat herself might have performed something like the role of the beneficial insect for her famous male colleagues, says Clark.
The delicate, earth-toned imagery that Clark employs in her watercolors is often a visualization of acts of invisible violence, as when microscopic bacteria such as crown gall and aphid mites prey on roses: Mary Treat herself compared such processes to prisoners in captivity. In one watercolor on view, a festive floral garland harbors splices from the deadly bacteria rose gall; in another, washes of color coalesce into a languid green leaf, which seems to curl around an insect and eggs as if the former were falling under a sinister spell.
By focusing on the life of Mary Treat in the context of the Botanical Garden, Clark reveals the complex relationship between science and the display garden while bringing to the fore the story of an early, but largely unappreciated and unusually dedicated expert on the larger relationship between insects and plants, North American carnivorous plants, and the specific ecosystems in New Jersey and Florida. Although Treat corresponded extensively with Darwin and Gray about her findings and sent them numerous dried and living specimensand both credited her in their booksthe gender divide made it impossible for her to do more than eke out a living as a trustworthy field researcher and published science writer.
The exhibition at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is the fourth in a series of installation projects wherein Clark works within the actual structure of the natural historiancollecting specimens, conducting experiments, and growing plantsto create a work of art with conceptual, visual and performative dimensions.
Says Scot Medbury, president of BBG, We are thrilled and honored have welcomed our first artist-in- residence during this special year. We believe that artists can bring unique perspectives to the understanding of the natural world: certainly Emilie Clark has done so in My Garden Pets.
He continues, This year, the Garden celebrates the centennial of its founding in 1910. The milestone comes at a time of historic investment in our gardens, facilities, and programs; the presentation of globally significant new findings on plant diversity and the urban environment; and the expansion of community horticulture outreach, already a model worldwide for urban gardening education.
Emilie Clark has exhibited widely in the United States and Europe, including a solo exhibition at the MUSARC in Ferrara, Italy (2000); three-person show at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, Ireland (2003); and group exhibitions at Wave Hill ( 2005)and the Arsenal on Fifth Avenue (2006). She will be represented in the forthcoming Botanica at the Hunterdon Art Museum in New Jersey (May 23 - September 12, 2010).
In addition to her practice as an artistwhich includes painting, drawing and installationClark is also the author of the book, Letters to Mary Ward, an imaginary correspondence with a 19th century natural historian and the first woman to write a treatise on the microscope (which was part of a drawing project shown in Dublin and New York). She is the co-author of four books with poets, including two collaborations with Lyn Hejinian and a recent etching series with Lytle Shaw. She has created a number of projects for magazines such as Cabinet and the covers of books of Anselm Berrigan, Lewis Warsh, Daniel Kane, Andrew Clark, Lee Ann Brown and Lyn Hejinian. Clark was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio residency in 2001 and a Pollock Krasner Foundation grant in 2002-2003. She is currently an assistant Professor at Ohio Wesleyans New York Arts Program.