July 26th, 2017

U of L exhibit sparks discussion

By Lethbridge Herald on March 19, 2017.

Work of Calgary artist part of a series

J.W. Schnarr
Lethbridge Herald

A new exhibit at the Helen Christou Art Gallery in the University of Lethbridge provides “a futile and preposterous proposal to help restore and protect what we are on the verge of destroying.”

Jennifer Wanner is a Calgary artist whose exhibit, “Second Nature,” is part of the “You Are Here” series designed to spark discussions about the future of the environment and the country.

In addition to the collages and video in the gallery, there are two additional videos available in the U of L Art Gallery Project Channel space on the 11th level of the library.

One of the components of Second Nature is a series of 14 collages titled, “Periculum,” which is Latin for trial, proof, danger, risk, peril, and liability. It features images comprised of the most endangered and threatened plant species in Canada.

Province by province, Wanner looked at each species, printed them off the internet, cut them out, and then reconfigured them into new plant forms.

“Essentially, I genetically collaged them together,” she said.

The result is a tongue-in-cheek proposal on plant conservation that could be used in place of setting aside land and preserving the most natural forms of the species.

“This would be one of those systems of efficiency that a lot of our scientific ways of engineering things could potentially benefit that,” she said.

And while the idea of genetically modifying plants and animals to preserve them may seem counter-intuitive, Wanner said there are many examples of science already being used in this manner.

“It’s not that far from what we are doing with self-pollinating almond trees,” she said. “Instead of saving the bees, we’re now asking how we can adapt to losing bees and instead make a self-pollinating almond tree.

“We should be trying to preserve and conserve much more. But our human brain likes to see what we can do. But, if we can do it, let’s make it happen.

“It’s a bit of a monstrous proposal.”

The result is a series of plants which are very natural-looking on first pass, but on closer examination, their chimeric nature becomes apparent.

The viewer is left to question how so many different flowers and leaves came to be growing from a single stalk, a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of endangered plants.

“If you take just a few moments to stop and look, there’s something a little bit strange going on here,” Wanner said. “If you look even closer, they are all very much hand-put together.

“If you think of a field of genetically modified canola, you wouldn’t know necessarily that it is genetically modified. I’m kind of playing with that same kind of innocuousness of something you could easily walk or drive by.”

Wanner has been working on the exhibit since 2013. She said there was a challenge in tracking down the right plants to use, as provincial and federal databases for endangered plants are very different.

“It was very tricky getting a straight answer out of these governing bodies over these plants they are supposed to be protecting,” she said.

“I found that very interesting.”

Second Nature crosses the barriers between art and science, and touches on issues of botany and environmental sciences.
“I’m hoping people will give a thought to how we are treating our natural world, and how many plant species are at risk in this country,” she said.

For more information on Jennifer Wanner and her work, visit jenniferwanner.com.

Follow @JWSchnarrHerald on Twitter

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