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Absorption

Mixed Media Installation

My high school environmental science teacher used to talk about his wish to be cut up into a thousand tiny pieces after death and fed to a school of fish off of Santa Barbara’s Channel Islands. This was probably a weird thing to say to a group of high schoolers, but his desire to be returned to the natural cycle of decay in our environment is far purer than the way most humans in modern culture are disposed of after death. Carbon is in our bodies, it is in the food we eat, the air we exhale, and the soil that we would naturally decompose into. The transfer of carbon throughout our environment is known as the carbon cycle and is one of nature’s critical rhythms in supporting life. As a network, the carbon cycle connects all living and inanimate things as hosts to carbon in its transitional forms. 

 

Absorption aims to capture the interplay between life, the inanimate, and the process of decay that is engaged in the carbon cycle. The multimedia installation consists primarily of wood, wire, plexiglass, cement, modeling paper, foam sealant, moss, stone, oyster mushrooms, a potted house plant, a light bulb, and a gardening spade. The materials used in the piece act as literal and symbolic representations of the various stages of the carbon cycle. The light bulb suspended above the sculpture acts as a symbol for sunlight, and gives the viewer an entryway into the piece and cycle it navigates. The house plant is a literal representation of photosynthesis and the transformation that occurs when a plant joins carbon dioxide with solar energy to create sugar molecules and oxygen. The figure at the bottom of the piece stands in for humanity’s involvement in this crucial cycle. A thin piece of thread connects the lightbulb to the plant and the plant to the mouth of the figure. Human activities have a major impact on the natural cycle of carbon. Through the burning of fossil fuels and the disruption of natural carbon sequestration, humans have dramatically increased the levels of carbon in our atmosphere (in the form of Co2). In just 170 years “human activities have raised atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by 47% above pre-industrial levels found in 1850” (Nasa). 

 

Absorption also challenges the common ideological division of humans and nature by uniting organic and industrial materials within the same sculpture. The disruption of this division is extenuated by the hierarchical placement of materials within the piece, the figure appearing at the bottom of the structure intermingled with fungi and moss diverges from the position of dominance that humans are traditionally portrayed in art.