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, Texas) uses natural materials to create process-based works that often vacillate between living and dead, natural and manmade. For Mutations, Bamburg erects Avian Bird’s-Eye Burl Perch Camera Trap: hinged, galvanized and grounded, 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) currently works using 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 presents Locus of Control, a seating sculpture that distorts a viewer’s singular perception of the world around them and expands how the materiality of our physical world influences our corporeality.
Sascha Braunig (b. 1983, Qualicum Beach, Canada) is known for her highly sculptural paintings of abstracted figures. For the High Line, Braunig presents Giantess, a sculpture of two oversized shoes with sharp, elongated toes and heel spurs—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, Zagreb, Croatia) works in systems of film ecologies, using a variety of screenused materials from film sets, including set miniatures, prosthetics and skin appliances, props and visual effects castoffs. Budor’s works reanimate cinematic objects into new systems that occur in collapsing zones of reality and fictional narratives. For the High Line, Budor presents The Forecast (New York Situation), a weather-responsive sculpture based on Archigram’s biomorphic projects for living spaces of the future. When wet, the sculpture takes on a different appearance.
Radamés “Juni” Figueroa (b. 1982, Puerto Rico) 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 park with La Deliciosa Show. Located underneath the multi-year scaffolding at the Rail Yards, Figueroa’s structure functions as a gathering site for public programming for the High Line community. Figueroa has invited three bands from Puerto Rico to perform as part of La Deliciosa Show on May 31 (La Exitosa), July 12 (Los Vigilantes), and September 27 (Reanimadores). Free with RSVP.
Guan Xiao (b. 1983, Chongqing, China) 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 REST IN, an archipelago of abstract sculptures that incorporate cast footprints and vertebrae.
Max Hooper Schneider (b. 1982, Los Angeles) builds terrariums and aquariums that contain a panoply of natural and synthetic animals and plants. Hooper Schneider embeds these “Trans-Habitats” with names of viruses written in neon, and makes no distinction between natural and artificial contents. For the High Line, Hooper Schneider presents Section of Intertidal Landscape (Hair Metastasis), a simulated tide pool with a reef of colorful synthetic hair.
Marguerite Humeau (b. 1986, France) 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 SPHINX JOACHIM, a sphinx as a winged lion that protects the site against potential enemies. Equipped with motion detectors, it roars as an alarm every time it senses a human presence.
Veit Laurent Kurz (b. 1985, Erbach, 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 Salamanderbrunnen, 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. Read more about his piece.
Joanna Malinowska (b. 1972, Gdynia, Poland) and C.T. Jasper ( b. 1971, Gdansk, Poland) make videos, sculptures, and sound works that intertwine historical and geographical narratives in absurd post-colonial fictions. For the High Line, Malinowska and Jasper install The Emperor’s Canary, two gramophones inspired by Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo. The first gramophone plays a recording of the Great Pacific garbage patch, and the second plays a recording of a person with black lung disease— two sounds that, for the artists, represent crises in our relationship to the environment.
Jumana Manna (b. 1987, Princeton, New Jersey) makes films and sculptures that explore the ways in which power— be it social, political, or interpersonal — interacts with the human body. Her sculptures take interest in the calcifications of national memory, as represented by the artifact – real or forged. They often resemble oversized parts of the human body, or architectural fragments, that combine crafted sculptures with discarded industrial objects. For the High Line, Manna presents Amulet II, a sculptural abstraction of a hand.
Jon Rafman’s (b. 1981, Montreal, Canada) 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 L’Avalée des avalés (The Swallower Swallowed), 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.
Photos by Timothy Schenck