Mutations is an open-air group exhibition that explores the relationship between man and nature, looking at how the boundaries between the natural world and culture are defined, crossed, and obliterated. The exhibition is inspired by the High Line as a controlled environment that encapsulates, on the one hand, the modern dream of humans taming nature, and on the other, the promise of nature reclaiming its control. The exhibition, which is on view from April 2017 – March 2018, asks: as technology becomes more invisible and genetic engineering more conceivable, how do the delineations between nature and culture shift and transform?
With new technologies of biological engineering emerging daily, spontaneous life and natural wonders lose their mystery, and our complex role as meddler and creator becomes more hotly debated. We encounter the relationship between technology and biology in a variety of contexts: from ones as beneficial as synthetic prosthesis; to the controversial topics of stem cell research and genetic modification; to science-fiction visions of artificial intelligence. The artists in Mutations explore the many facets of this relationship, wondering about augmented or collaged natural forms, the ways our own bodies are transformed by technological inventions, and the blurred boundaries between natural life and human intervention. The works featured in the exhibition crisscross the uncanny valley between the unnatural and the all too human and between the laughably futuristic and the bizarrely contemporary.
Larry Bamburg (b. 1974, Houston. Lives and works in Marfa, Texas) uses natural materials to create process-based works that often vacillate between living and dead, natural and manmade. For Mutations, Bamburg erects a motion-activated wildlife camera 30 feet in the air to capture studio quality images of birds. The process of making the contraption reflects the web of influences that shaped the High Line itself—institutional and engineering constraints, aesthetic compromises, and seemingly natural habitats—in an attempt to make a straightforward representation of nature.
Alisa Baremboym (b. 1982, Moscow, Soviet Union. Lives and works in New York) currently works with unglazed fired clay, acrylic and steel to explore the porous relationship between our physical bodies and the consequences of production and consumption in today’s world. For the High Line, Baremboym creates a seating sculpture that distorts viewers’ perceptions of the world around them.
Sascha Braunig (b. 1983, Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, Canada. Lives and works in New York) is known for her highly sculptural paintings of abstracted figures. For the High Line, Braunig presents a sculpture of two oversized shoes with sharp, elongated toes and heel spurs – weaponized footwear fit for a witch. Placed peeking out of the High Line’s planting beds, Braunig’s shoes appear as if they could belong to one of her fantastical painted characters, or the hallucination of a feminist fairy tale.
Dora Budor (b. 1984, Croatia. Lives and works in New York) uses a variety of screen-used materials from film sets, including set miniatures, prosthetics and skin appliances, props and visual effects castoffs. Hovering between reality and cinematic narrative, Budor’s works reanimate science-fiction film memorabilia which imitate anomalous growth and organic life by embedding them in new environments. For the High Line, Budor creates weather-responsive sculpture based on Archigram’s biomorphic projects for living spaces of the future.
Radamés Juni Figueroa (b. 1982, Puerto Rico. Lives and works in San Juan) builds site-specific gathering spaces from rudimentary, and often found, building materials. Everyday life in the tropics is central to Figueroa’s work as a visual reference and central thread that runs through his body of work. For the High Line, Figueroa occupies one of the construction sheds on the High Line. Located underneath the multi-year scaffolding at the Rail Yards, Figueroa’s structure will function as a site for public programming for the High Line community.
Guan Xiao (b. 1983, China. Lives and works in Beijing) works primarily in sculpture, installation, and video. Layering images and texts digitally printed on fabric backdrops with ready- and custom-made objects stacked or displayed on tripods, Guan’s work suggests an absurd or futuristic photo shoot. Her collage aesthetic evokes the strangeness of the absolute integration of products into life and the inseparability of organic creativity and branded production. For the High Line, she presents an archipelago of abstract sculptures that incorporate chrome hubcaps, cast footprints, and vertebrae.
Marguerite Humeau (b. 1986, France. Lives and works in London, United Kingdom) weaves factual events into speculative narratives, enabling unknown, invisible, or extinct forms of life to erupt in grandiose splendor. For the High Line, Humeau proposes a sphinx in the form of a sound producing winged lion, equipped with cameras and censors, that protects the site against potential enemies.
Veit Laurent Kurz (b. 1985, Erbach, Germany. Lives and works in Berlin, Germany) cultivates artificial ecosystems composed of a variety of living and nonliving materials, including plants, mosses, nondescript chemicals, biohazardous material containers, industrial plastic tubing, and paint. For the High Line, Kurz creates a fountain that circulates Herba-4, Kurz’s imagined “herbal juice of the future,” asking us to imagine the new forms of nature that we create together.
Joanna Malinowska (b. 1972, Poland. Lives and works in New York) creates sculptures, videos, and sound works that intertwine historical and geographical narratives in absurd post-colonial fictions. For the High Line, Malinowska collaborates with C.T. Jasper (born 1971, Poland. Lives and works in NY) on the installation of two gramophones that play recorded sounds of the Great Pacific garbage patch and of a person breathing who has black lung disease – two sounds that, for her, represent crises in our relationship to the environment.
Jumana Manna (b. 1987, Princeton. Lives and works in Berlin, Germany and Jerusalem, Israel) makes films and sculptures that explore the ways in which power – be it social, political, or interpersonal – interacts with the human body. Her sculptures often resemble discarded artifacts or oversized parts of the human body, and include pieces of furniture – a nod to the everyday objects that guide the ways in which our bodies interact with the world. For the High Line, Manna recreates Amulet, an abstract sculpture of a hand.
Jon Rafman’s (b. 1981, Canada. Lives and works in Montreal) videos and sculptures are comprised of images constantly swallowing one another, much in the way that we consume media ourselves every day. For the High Line, Rafman presents a sculpture which takes the form of a circle of autophagous animals including a dog, a whale, a lizard, and a human, looped into a speculative food chain.
Max Hooper Schneider (b. 1982, Los Angeles. Lives and works in Los Angeles) creates dioramic worlds that collapse conventional distinctions between natural and artificial, static and nonstatic, living and dead. Coining these sculptures “Trans-Habitats,” Hooper Schneider develops an aesthetic centered around the generative capacities of used or no longer desired objects and materials. For the High Line, Hooper Schneider simulates an intertidal ecosystem in which waves agitate a colorful reef composed of natural and synthetic human hair.
Max Hooper Schneider, Pet Semiosis 8: FLEAS (English), 2016. Photo by Michael Underwood. Courtesy the artist and Jenny’s