Hall Center For The Humanities


Marguerite Perret in collaboration with Bruce Scherting & Betsy Knabe Roe

Niche: Nature morte in the simulated gardenArt Installation Opening
The Commons

Thu., Feb. 7, 2008, 3:00pm - 5:00pm
Location: The Commons, Spooner Hall
*The Commons is a partnership between the Biodiversity Institute, the Hall Center for the Humanities & the Spencer Museum of Art

This installation is made possible by a generous gift to the Hall Center from Elizabeth Schultz, KU Professor of English emerita.

Niche is a mixed media art installation conceived by Marguerite Perret and created in collaboration with Bruce Scherting and Betsy Knabe Roe. The word ?niche? is from the old French for nest. In contemporary usage, it can refer to the place an organism occupies in an ecosystem, or the place a product holds in what marketing professionals sometimes call the consumer ecosystem. Niche encompasses both associations. The work on display is a hybrid of consumer culture and the natural world.

In On Photography (1977), Susan Sontag wrote, ?Nature in America has always been suspect, on the defensive, cannibalized by progress. In America, every specimen becomes a relic.? As our perception of nature is increasingly mediated by economics, mass media and consumer culture, our encounter of the natural world is more and more removed from direct experience. At the same time, market-driven economic land management policies encourage sprawl, habitat fragmentation and unregulated commercial development of natural resources to the determent of healthy and sustainable ecosystems. Paradoxically, we have developed an nostalgia for nature ? a desire that can be marketed to ? at the same time that the authentic thing is being consumed to exhaustion.

Images of the tree of life, as a symbolic construct and as an illustration of natural selection, pervade the installation. The result is reminiscent of a strange fairy tale, where the beautiful and peculiar occupy the same space. On entering the main room, a colonnade of tree-like forms radiate from the center columns. These trees do not evoke the natural, but retain the look of the PVC pipes they are made from, along with the nuts and bolts that hold them in place and the plastic ?fruits and pods? created from plastic water and soft drink bottles. On either side of the room roots appear to be growing through the walls. These roots are made from plastic shopping and grocery bags. A fabric curtain with a pattern based on the historic Panorama at the Museum of Natural History, framed by graphics of housing developments separates the main room from the apse. Inside a series of faux stained glass windows combine photographs of specimens from the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History with reconfigured icons of development, electrical poles, housing developments and construction sites.

Niche will not be a static exhibition. While the main elements described above will be in place for the exhibition opening, subtle additions will be made throughout the year it is on display. These include but are not limited to the installation of additional ?pods? and ?flowers? on the tree branches, behind the scenes photographs at the natural history museum, and a display case of real and synthetic specimens.

About the artists: Marguerite Perret is a mixed media artist and assistant professor in design at Washburn University, Topeka. Perret conceived the idea of the installation and produced the window transparencies, the curtain and the tree pods. Bruce Scherting fabricated the PVC trees and organized the exhibition installation. He is the Director of Exhibitions at the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History. Betsy Knabe Roe is a fiber based installation artist and a visiting professor at Washburn University. She is responsible for the creation of the plastic bag roots.

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