Tributes to dying nature

Carolyn Angleton’s sculptures mourn the loss of a simpler time

“Passage” by Carolyn Angleton.

“Passage” by Carolyn Angleton.

Photo by David Robert

Think transformation and mutation. Think metamorphoses. Think passages, junctures and the passing of time.

Carolyn Angleton’s Requiem to Nature, a collection of sculptures now on display at the Sierra Arts Center gallery, speaks of an age in which nature has become “a mere relic of the past, something to be categorized or controlled.” Angleton’s sculptures document the collision of a primitive past and a sterile, impersonal, technological future.

The idea is a powerful one, and one especially relevant in our harried, cell phone-strapping society, in which “getting in touch with nature” means watching the Discovery Channel. At some point in our love affair with technology, we have forfeited most of our ties to nature and even, as Angleton said, to one another.

Requiem to Nature testifies to this forfeiture. Most of the pieces comprise series of bronze objects suspended from the wall; there are, for instance, a series of irises, a series of cabbages, a series of “fossil sticks” and a series of spoons and other utensils. These sculptures are simple and unassuming and, as a collection, create an effect of wintriness, barrenness, even deathliness. Requiem to Nature, said the artist, is mourning the loss of a simpler time.

Some of the works appear embryonic or cocoon-like. “Untitled (white fur),” a human-size form covered in white fur, extends from the ceiling into the gallery walking space, so that one must step aside to avoid it. The piece is startling, even a bit creepy: What, one wonders, is encased in there? This might be the cocoon of some beautiful creature. On the other hand, it sort of looks like a body bag. (Is this where they put art critics who give bad reviews?) One might also liken it to a carcass hanging in a meat locker. According to Angleton, the piece is one part “cuddly toy,” one part “nightmare.”

None of the sculptures, however, are quite as rich in message and metaphor as the largest piece, “Passage.” Housed in the corner of the gallery, “Passage” features a tall (about 5 feet high) queen-sized “bed” that doubles as a cart or wagon. The bed, which rests on knotted wooden legs that end in wooden wheels, is attached to a hitch. This is the type of cart one might have found in an old-time funeral procession, Angleton said. The bed is covered with a black fur bedspread, creating a look of luxuriousness, but also of decadence and decay. Angleton says that it is meant to resemble the interior of a coffin.

Behind the bed/cart hang six metal “spears,” as the artist calls them. The spears, although metal, bear an overwhelming resemblance to tree branches. There’s a reason for this: The mold was formed from plants in Angleton’s own garden. The resulting branch/spears are intended to defy category; they are made of metal but have plant origins as well. To further complicate their make-up, the spears are capped with bones, which, according to Angleton, are cow vertebrae. The artist says the spears demonstrate a juncture of plant and animal life, and also of nature and technology.

When I asked Angleton why she had chosen to couple the spears/branches with the cart/bed, she said that the spears function almost like a headboard; they prevent the cart from rolling backward. The cart has no place to go but onward, moving slowly, painfully, into a dizzying future.