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Museum of American Art of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA

Materials & Dimensions:
Wood, cast handmade paper, bark, existing freestanding wall unit
Wall unit: 9 feet 10 inches high x 20 feet long x 4 feet deep
Bark door: 40 ½ inches high x 13 ½ inches wide x 5 ½ inches deep

This installation was done for the exhibitNature Morte: Contemporary Still Life.

The Museum of American Art is a Frank Furness building. It has abundant ornament that is, in a sense, architectural still life. The installation was a response to the ‘nature’ of this ornament and to the term ‘nature morte’. I used one of the museum’s mobile freestanding walls as my site. These units can be entered through a small door in the end and are open on top to the illumination from the museum skylights. I altered the door to become a tree trunk with a viewfinder in a knot. I imbedded various tree wounds over the surface of the wall. Some of these led to apertures cut through the wall with translucent paper voids mounted behind, which could be discovered by the curious viewer. I considered the tree wounds to be a sort of ornamental scarification on the tree and a parallel to the architectural ornament. Both attempt to stop time. Neither succeeds.

Artist’s statement from the exhibition brochure:

Still Life Is Not Dead Nature

The nature of ornament is the formalization of the profusion of nature. It offers the illusion of control. The nature of still life is stopping time. The endless freshness counterpoints the certainty of decay.

A wall is ‘infected’ with the ‘wounds’ of trees. This
‘ornamental’ scarification seals the body of the tree
from further penetration and decay, but the decay
proceeds nevertheless. It is the nature inside.

The ornament in this museum is, in a sense, architectural still life. Although the ornament formalizes the luxuriance of growth and the fresh perfection of each flower in stone, metal, and clay, these materials will also deteriorate, eventually. Yet the impulse to make such things persists. What is the optimism of this activity, which cannot stop time, but graces time’s passing?