On ViewOrtega Y Gasset Projects
“This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.” Thus reads the dedication written by Andri Snær Magnason titled “A letter to the future” cast on the 2019 bronze memorial to Okjökull, the first Icelandic glacier to stop moving and die as a result of climate change. This monument signals a human sense of responsibility and empathy for our non-human Earth, and Magnason’s words express the urgency we feel in the present as we try to envision an uncertain future. Against the same backdrop of climate crisis, Messenger, a two-person exhibition curated by Nickola Pottinger featuring Theresa Bloise’s futuristic landscape paintings and George Boorujy’s ink on paper images of wild animals, similarly suggests a way of thinking of a new Earth ethics, one we desperately need now.
Bloise’s landscapes pulsate with unnatural hues whose harmony and sublime splendor, paired with the spectacle of gushing silver leaf waterfalls or LED lights, create a new vision of nature. These sci-fi colors, such as the phosphorescent glow of rocks in Sunrise (2019), seen from overhead and casting long shadows on a blue ground, suggest these are landscapes from the future, where perhaps there has been a technological intervention in the environment—not the kind predicated on dominating nature, but on a sustainable model, like those envisioned in recent years by solarpunk writers. But this might be a misguidedly anthropocentric interpretation. After all, the unfamiliar vitality of Bloise’s luminous worlds could in fact represent a post-human future.
Traveling backward in time, Bloise’s landscapes spill into our present-day space through their 3-D installation elements and, at times, their larger-than-human scale. Drippy Mountain’s (2017) cascading rock formations streaked in rainbow washes materialize in our space with a grouping of three similarly painted concrete rocks placed on the gallery floor. At seven feet high, Rift (2020) stands taller than the viewer and is set out from the wall; its silver waterfall pools into a cerulean vinyl mat on the gallery floor. A geometric hole cut in Sunrise, framed with LEDs, allows us to enter the world of the canvas while its artificial light emanates back into ours.
Whereas we experience Bloise’s paintings as environments, Boorujy’s animals, such as the Florida panther staring us down whilst devouring a great egret in Dredger (2017) and the cottonmouth snake (2018) baring her fangs at us as she delivers her offspring, warn us to remain on our side of the picture plane. We see behind their potential for violence a desperate fear—they merely want to survive and reproduce, as in the two birds tenderly mating in Anhinga (2017). The dynamic X- or inverted V-shaped poses of these animals against white backgrounds form striking compositions whose voids might indicate that these animals have been stolen from their habitats and are held in captivity within the picture frame. However, what is missing in these pictures is not so much the animals’ environments but a vision of their future, as they now share the same threat faced by all species due to human ecocide. Although stylistically informed by the long tradition of naturalist illustration from Albrecht Dürer to John James Audubon, Boorujy’s work is less about the artist’s detached objectivity and more about the animals’ subjectivity. In this way, his work is more spiritually akin to Franz Marc’s, especially if one thinks of his prophetic painting The Fate of the Animals (1913) depicting threatened animal subjects.
This threat is felt most poignantly in Annunciation (2014) in which a fallen, pregnant horse flails on her back, perhaps in labor, with terror on her face and a mysterious smoke plume exhausting from the side of her womb. The title recalls the familiar scene in Catholic art in which the Archangel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary she will bear the Son of God. At the news that she would be thrust into an unimaginable future upending her relationship to her body and her world, Mary was rightfully “troubled” according to St. Luke, despite her uninvited visitor’s admonition to “Fear not.” Compared to the ataraxy of the Virgin as idealized in Renaissance paintings, always poised and piously reading scripture, we more readily identify with the real fear expressed by Boorjuy’s all-too-human horse.
Distinguishing between Earth and world, philosopher Kelly Oliver notes that while we all can inhabit different social worlds, we nevertheless share the same Earth. Oliver argues we need a new Earth ethics grounded in eros, a love that recognizes our ongoing relationality with other species and the environment, as well as our sense of belonging to the Earth. We oscillate between Earth and world in the exhibition Messenger. On the one hand, we are startled by our alien encounters with the worlds of Bloise’s strange landscapes and Boorujy’s other species. On the other hand, drawn by an erotics of color and sensuality of space, both imagined and real, we imagine belonging in Bloise’s environments. We respond sensually to Boorujy’s intimately tactile renderings of scales, feathers, and fur, and as his animals make eye contact with us, they awaken our own animality. We realize that these animals belong to the same sensual Earth as we do. Messenger does not in and of itself repair the environment, but as it poses the future as an unanswered question—left blank in Boorujy’s voids and given one possible vision in Bloise’s landscapes—it offers a space for rethinking and re-feeling our ethical relationship to our shared Earth.