3.18.2008

Maslen & Mehra

Ibex : Louvre : Paris II - from the Native Series - non-manipulated photograph of sculpture - Maslen & Mehra - 2007


American Buffalo : Roosevelt Island : New York - from the Native Series - non-manipulated photograph of sculpture - Maslen & Mehra - 2007



Roe Deer : Docklands : London : I - from the Native Series - non-manipulated photograph of sculpture/billboard installation - Maslen & Mehra - 2007


Tim Maslen & Jennifer Mehra are a team of artists based in the UK, who for the last sum of years have been engaging in a powerful dialog on the natural world's place in today’s ‘human world.’

In their Native series (above and throughout), mirrored sculptures of animals are placed in the urban environment as sculptural installations which are then documented with large-scale photographs. The particular species chosen for these temporary interventions were once were natives of, but are no longer present in, the areas in which their simulacra are placed. In the gallery, these works are displayed on reclaimed light boxes, recycled from their former lives as advertisement frames in London's subway system. This alone, I love. That this former vehicle for consumer desire gets re-purposed as an art object designed to question those very structures is quite clever --- as well as being a marker of Maslen & Mehra’s commitment to an art practice centered on sustainability.

American Eagle : Times Square : New York : VI - from the Native Series - recycled advertising lightbox - Maslen & Mehra - 2008


Mouflon : Gianicolo : Rome - from the Native Series - non-manipulated photograph of sculpture - Maslen & Mehra - 2007


I see the photographs as gateways, allowing one to imagine the encounter with the physical objects, if one is not lucky enough to encounter them in reality. Their perhaps more potent existence is as these public sculptures/installations.

Maslen & Mehra’s animal shapes, rather than being ‘filled-in’ representations, reflect the urban environment around them --- displacing their identity outwards. They are creatures which share our space, but only as cut-outs, windows, absences. These mirrored forms call out the very thing that has displaced them --- confronting us with the the phenomenon of habitat loss, species driven to extinction, and our own alienation from the animal kingdom and the natural world.

American Eagle : Empire City : New York - from the Native Series - non-manipulated photograph of sculpture - Maslen & Mehra - 2008


When actually encountering the works in situ, I am compelled to imagine, what one would also see is oneself --- reflected in the animal form. A question directed towards our own ersatz dissociation from the animal clan. We too become the animals on display, running in the same pack as these silver ghosts. When looking at these lost creatures, driven from the world we have created, we look at ourselves, trapped inside the built environment, faces shining back from inside of haloed animal bodies.

This idea of the mirror is key to the thorough consideration of these works. It is what takes the sculptures beyond facsimile. The mirror interrupts ‘the gaze’ --- a traditional signifier of the viewer’s ownership over the object/person/animal who is being viewed, by reflecting that gaze back upon the viewer, reversing the power dynamic. Acknowledging the act of looking and being looked at as equally powerful, and giving agency to both beast and landscape encapsulated in it’s form, Maslen & Mehra’s sculptures force us to confront our complicity in the situation played out by mirror-forms --- the shifting of the environment to managed and manicured, the dispersal of species from their traditional habitats, and our own loss of beauty (in the world and within ourselves) when these creatures disappear from our collective lives.

European Wolf : Notre Dame : Paris - Series - non-manipulated photograph of sculpture - Maslen & Mehra - 2007

For the many human beings on the planet, especially those in cities, where half of humanity will live by the end of 2008, encounters with animals are now rarefied events. We generally only encounter other animals in mediated situations: in zoos, on televisions, as calendar icons, as feral creatures in our cities, on the occasional managed safari. Maslen & Mehra’s sculptures set us up to consider just how much we may be missing.

What do we forfeit if we continue to allow these creatures and environments to be driven from the Earth? To see a sea eagle dive for a salmon, drops of water flashing as talons meet river. To walk the woods in the crisp winter air, and catch a shiver up your spine upon finding fresh wolf tracks crossing the snowy path ahead. To see an ibex silhouetted on a far-off rocky crest, pirouetting, boulder to boulder, so nimbly that it makes you dizzy. To hear the enormous ‘shushing’ sound of owl’s wings right above your head on a moonless night. Surely, these are things worth saving.

Eagle Owl : Reichstag : Berlin - from the Native Series - non-manipulated photograph of sculpture - Maslen & Mehra - 2007


Maslen & Mehra’s mirrored creatures are phantoms, fragile and impermanent --- spectral reminders of the relationships between habitats and inhabitants that no longer exist. They are apparitions from the zoological garden of the distant pre-urban past. These works, however, are not simply mournful. The mirror throws things back at us, but it can can also be a doorway to a new way of thinking. Mirrors show us ourselves, but if we find that reflected image unsatisfying, they can be a tool to focus and ignite the desire for change.

These works, while reminding us of the currently untenable situation we have created with our environment, are none-the-less hopeful and generous --- and allow us, the viewers, to see ourselves through these figures of possibility. They invite us to take a trip through the looking glass to a past where cities once were forests, skyscrapers were sequoias, and plazas were open glades where deer could graze.

Red Deer : Bibliotheque German Parliament : Berlin - from the Native Series - non-manipulated photograph of sculpture - Maslen & Mehra - 2007

Simultaneously present and absent, these works help us to recall not only what no longer is, but to imagine, with a change in vision, what possibly could still be.

More of Maslen & Mehra’s work can be seen at voidgallery.com

No comments: