Česká centra, Czech Centres

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Jun 25, 2013 6:30 PM - Sep 2, 2013

Poison Green

Exhibition examining themes, concepts and cultural fictions dealing with environment and ecology, featuring Czech and international artists Matej Al-Ali (CZ), Silvina Arismendi (CZ), Mark Dion (US), Petr Dub (CZ), Mathias Kessler (AT), Tomas Moravec (CZ), Because We Want It (US), Anne Percoco (US), Katerina Seda (CZ), Klara Sumova (CZ) and Slavoj Zizek (SI). Curated by Kristyna and Marek Milde.

Exhibition Opening: Tuesday, June 25, 6:30PM-8:30PM
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Rather than painting green and romanticizing nature, the artists and concepts, presented in Poison Green interrogate and study the complexity of our environment, examining the consequences of the urban, post-industrial, and virtualized reality we live in.  Ultimately, Poison Green seeks to demystify the ideologies inherent in our understanding of nature, reflecting on conventions and stereotypes, and looking for possible enviro models socially integrated into our daily lives and culture. 

            The exhibition’s name refers to the story of the once-popular emerald green color known as Paris green or poison green, which owes its beauty to the highly toxic arsenic pigment. Utilized to dye cloth and Victorian wallpapers, and favored by the Impressionist painters to represent nature,  in the nineteen century it became notorious for its role in a number of mysterious poisonings and deaths. Today, when the question of how to save our natural environment from destruction is more urgent than ever, it is critical to distinguish between the “green” and the “greenwashed,” between those practices that are truly ecological and those that merely pretend to be.  The exhibition project Poison Green, symbolically referring to both life and death, examines the concept of “green” and its ambiguity as well as our fantasies, idealizations, and cultural understanding of nature.

            Pioneered by environmentalists and marginalized for decades, today ecology is a hot topic in mainstream culture and media. The ongoing changes in the environment are forcing the developed world to an awareness of the consequences of its comfortable life and the realization that the environmental impacts of industrial society and the limitless exploitation of natural resources needs to be addressed.

Yet, as going green has become popular, politicians and corporations have adopted a new eco-vocabulary—“food miles,” “ecological debt,” “carbon footprint”—to serve their interests, confusing sincere environmental efforts with greenwashed agendas and eco-chic. Meanwhile, in our own lives, the question arises of what we as individuals can do.

            Taking on the role of scientists, environmentalists, social workers, and teachers, the artists and participants presented in Poison Green explore the environment viewed through a multi-layered lens of culture and nature. Several of the artists adopt the methods of investigative research and apply them to topics such as energy, building methods, design, food production, science, social and educational models, etc. Unlike a scientific thesis, however, they convey their message through visual representations and metaphors, critically reviewing green approaches with an artistic sensibility that contributes a unique insight to the green discourse.  While no pragmatic solutions and “correct” resolutions are claimed, the unconventional approach of these artists brings a new perspective to the way the fields of science, social studies, and politics understand the environment.

            The exhibition Poison Green is incorporated in a series of installations and visuals that extends from the gallery of the Bohemian National Hall to its rooftop, where a community garden project accompanying the show is installed. Here participants and visitors have the opportunity to experience the process of how to grow just enough food for one dish.

The contemporary controversy over humans’ relationship to Nature recalls the video of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek from the film Examined Life (2007) by Astra Taylor. Talking against the backdrop of a garbage heap, Zizek emphasizes the psychological meaning of ecology, which he sees as a new manifestation of ideology and religion. “Nature does not exist,” he asserts, except in our idealized view of Nature as a balanced organism. In his view Nature is actually a series of unimaginable catastrophes that we are evolutionarily not wired to understand. Paradoxically he calls for the even greater alienation of humanity from Nature, so that we may perceive and understand it, abandoning our cultural and ideological understanding so that we may grasp its inherent integral and spiritual aspects.

The effect of our idealization of Nature is visible the moment we enter the exhibition space of Poison Green and lay eyes on Wonder Tree (2013), a sculpture by Silvina Arismendi using 400 artificially scented car fresheners. The pervasive chemical smell of a pine produced by the iconic tree-shaped car fresheners reveals the absurdity of the notion of connecting to nature via artificial means.

Mark Dion also explores the controlling of nature with chemicals in his piece Flit (2000), from the exhibition project Museum of Poison, in which Dion presented cabinets containing some of the most notorious biocides (herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides). In his attractive modern display case, there is a disjoint between the dangerous and deadly material and its consumable, seductive presentation. Flit, an early pesticide used to kill mosquitos, explores the human alteration of ecologies and the destruction of the interconnection of natural cycles. In his drawing Weed World (1999), weeds seem to escape the control of a human hand, with their overgrowth of ruins and cultural remains pose a problem but also suggest the return of Nature. 

What appears to be a ghost town in the midst of picturesque sand dunes in Mathias Kessler’s panoramic photograph of Picher 08 (2011), from Oklahoma, is in fact a farmland that was turned in to a desert by mining. In a second work, Die Gescheiterte Hoffnung (2012)— a refrigerator whose freezer contains a 3D model replicating the landscape from the painting Das Eismeer (1823) by Caspar David Friedrich — Kessler provides a humorous and melancholic comment on the global problem of deglaciating polar ice caps. The fridge is stocked with Coors Light Beer, a brand that uses the image of glaciers to sell its product. Exhibition visitors are encouraged to help themselves to a beverage and engage in conversation, in the spirit of the Austrian tradition of Stammtisch, where local communities get together, have a beer, discuss politics, local problems, and life in general. The constant opening and closing of the refrigerator door slowly leads to the 3D model being covered with a layer of ice, in what is commonly referred to as “freezer burn”, transforming it into the Eismeer (Arctic Sea) of Friedrich’s painting.

Unfreezing a community is one of the main themes in the work of Katerina Seda, which approaches the environment as a social space and laboratory in which she can observe, study, and transform the landscape in collaboration with its inhabitants. For There is Nothing There (2003), Seda convinced the entire village of Ponetovice, with its 350 residents, to change the geography of their life by engaging in the same tasks at the same time for a whole day. Suddenly, mundane activities such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping — typically perceived as insignificant, “nothing” — were transformed into special collective events.

The photograph series Trail of Courage (2012), by artist collaborative Tomas Moravec, Petr Dub and Matej Al-Ali, presents an intervention in the Prague suburban village Psáry - Dolní Jirčany. The piece takes the form of an interpretative path that meanders through the village, addressing issues of the Czech landscape’s rapid urbanization. Points of interests feature quotations from selected texts on theories of contemporary urbanism and situational analysis, confronting the two virtually separate worlds: the reality of the village inhabitants, and professional urban theory.

Anne Percoco explores building, dwellings, and recycling in Weather Shield for a Migrant Dwelling (2009–13). The silver hut she built in the gallery is a recreation of the site-specific installation in Partapur, India. During her Sandarbh artist residency, Percoco created a protective outer layer for the house of a migrant family in Partapur, which was used for more than a year.  Composed of salvaged foil linings from plastic wrappers found in the trash, the covering reflects its immediate surroundings, and continues to reflect any place the family chooses to relocate.

Industrial designer Klara Sumova examines design that is responsive to consumerism and eco-chic in her P & F ( papers and fabrics ) 2013, Do-It-Yourself project. Instead of creating another “green” novelty object to be further commodified, Sumova distributes renderings and plans for how to make objects of daily use from recycled materials, presenting the process as a workshop.

Special Edition of the New York Times (2009), by the Because We Want It artist and activist collaborative, was a 14-page New York Times replica distributed in 80,000 copies announcing the end of the Iraq War and fictional news about ideals transforming society. In this ideal world, large corporations like Exxon announced their conversion to renewable energy.

In the corner of the gallery you will find a large wooden worktable with benches serving as a presentation platform and gathering space of the project titled Dinner Garden, a community garden project taking place on the rooftop of the Bohemian National Hall. Poison Green curators Kristyna and Marek Milde invited a group of people associated with the Bohemian National Hall to experience the process of growing just enough food for one dish. Their starting point was the question “If we are what we eat, then who are we if we don’t know the origin and the context of the production of our food?” Dinner Garden is a workshop and think tank examining the concepts and the culture of eating, cooking, and food production as a realm in which our identity and relationships to the environment are established.

Made in collaboration with: Michaela Boruta, Vita Chase, Slavka Petrova, Marek Soltis, Filip Trcka, Nicole and Jan Zahour


Supported by the Consulate General of the Czech Republic in New York, Bohemian Benevolent & Literary Association and the Vermont Compost Company 


Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street
NY 10021 New York
United States


From: Jun 25, 2013 6:30 PM
To: Sep 2, 2013


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