Christy Rupp: Catastrophozoic
Review by Lemon Reimer The Greek philosopher Plato was once applauded for his definition of mankind as ‘a featherless biped.’ Diogenes the Cynic responded in kind by displaying a plucked chicken at Plato’s school and proclaiming “Here is Plato’s man.” Plato attempted to separate humanity from the animal kingdom through aesthetic difference. Diogenes showed that there is nothing that truly differentiates man from beast beyond this need for individuality. In Christy Rupp’s Catastrophozoic at Cross Contemporary Art, we come face-to-face with ‘Plato’s man’ and all we have done against our feathered siblings. The sculptures of birds are dualistically constructed through human representation in art history and through human refuse like plastic netting and fishing line. Searching for images of birds from art history, the context of struggle and vulnerability become the focus for a body of work using the materials that ultimately doom birds and their habitat. In constructing these birds from the same plastic netting used in supermarkets for wrapping produce- materials briefly used and then discarded, Rupp draws the comparison of permanence and disposability. The Birds of Art History endure through time yet so does the plastic refuse as it persists in the environment, threatening avian digestive systems and their habitat.
Ironically, nature has little say in the environmental degradation by these featherless human bipeds and real birds around the world struggle to survive in the man-made biome of oil spills, cityscapes, and smog clouds. These recreations are ultimately incapable of replacing nature’s original, highlighting the futility of replacing the ecosystem we lost. Another way that Rupp highlights this futility is through the symbolism of Russian Nesting or matryoshka dolls of chemical compounds. The smallest in the chain is replaced by the next, each becoming more and more complex and detrimental to the environment. As humanity discovers or invents new chemicals to replace the last, the chain becomes longer and more deadly. From mercury and lead to glyphosate and nicotinoids, nature suffers at the hands of human ingenuity. We can turn our backs to the impact of our actions due to the production of a lifestyle unhinged from our ecosystems but we can’t ignore the permanent effects of the toxicity in the environment.
In Ms. Rupp’s collages, art history is featured again. Hudson River School paintings by Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand are the backdrops for slithering metal pipes and train cars filled with leaking oil. The patterning of bucolic waterfalls with the ominous and endless trains bearing crude oil not only depict the potential for disaster but the tragedy of a pristine landscape irreparably touched by the human hand.
The world that Christy Rupp forms with these works is both beautiful and melancholic. Though the bright nylon plumage of birds and the rich black of oil rivers may be superficially appealing and whimsical, the underlying message ultimately shows that this world is unsustainable, and the price of creating these striking landscapes is the permanent loss of something far older and far more precious.
When Plato separated man from beast was the beginning of a slippery slope, producing the world we live in today. Catastrophozoic is a masterful balance between pleasure and pain. It is hard to look away from the eye catching scenery, yet what we see is ultimately a crass Band-Aid that none of us wish to rip off for fear of the damage underneath. Christy Rupp: Catastrophozoic at Cross Contemporary Art Oct. 6-29, 2017