SOLSTICES AND EQUINOXES: Paintings by Leah Wilson
January 17 – May 16, 2017
Roger W. Rogers Gallery
In its measured and diligent investigation of minute, incremental changes in light levels at a specific site in the H.J Andrews Experimental Forest over time, this series of paintings represents a seamless merger of art and science as it throws into high relief the pivotal role of change in ecosystems. It also examines the nature of perception, and the idea that by studying phenomena, we change them.
The genesis of the project lies in Wilson’s experience as an artist-in-residence at H.J. Andrews, a 16,000 acre long-term research site which is located in the Western Cascades east of Springfield, Oregon. During her residency, Wilson had the opportunity to observe scientists from Oregon State University’s Department of Forestry, who are currently in the 30th year of a of a 100-year log decomposition study. The study involves deliberately placing a number of tagged logs in a wide variety of locations in and around the streams that run through the forest in order to test the effect species and size of logs have on decomposition and nutrient cycling processes.
Wilson’s interaction with this research led her to realize that science in general, and ecology in particular, seeks to identify patterns (and changes in patterns) over time. It is therefore fitting that both in terms of process and product, the most evident element of the work would be repetition, rhythm, and pattern.
The selection of the solstices and equinoxes of a specific year for the collection of her “data points” connects the cycles in a specific place and ecosystem with much larger and more powerful astronomical cycles. In comparing the barely perceptible, incremental chromatic changes that occur over the course of a day with the large seasonal changes that occur during the course of the earth’s orbit around the sun, Wilson’s work underlines the universality of the forces and phenomena that affect her specific, chosen site.
While the careful, and even clinical attention to methodology, process, and detail might lead us to think that Wilson’s work is purely scientific, there is much more at work here than only a concern with science. Her work is also a symbolic and meaningful examination of the philosophical idea that change is the only true constant.
Wilson points out that the nature of our senses and perception influences and changes the thing we study. She also demonstrates that the very act of studying something changes it. She explains her realizations in this regard as follows, ” Not only do our senses and brains edit information, and therefore the patterns and rhythms we perceive, but we have affected every environment and ecosystem on the earth, directly or indirectly, which also affects the way that we experience the patterns of change in the environment. Looking upstream from my location on the creek, the wild ruggedness of the old growth forest is apparent. But looking downstream is an abrupt intersection of wildness and human construction, a reminder of the way we alter our environment to fit our specific needs of that place.”
Wilson was able to observe human interventions occurring at her site during the course of her one-year process. She explains that these human interventions affected the patterns and rhythms of chromatic change in the creek, and subsequently in her paintings. She elaborates as follows: “Even environments that appear wild and untouched are still affected by human intervention: a road can change the speed and redirect water during a storm; national parks are highly managed to control plant and animal populations; fires are suppressed or started to achieve a desired environmental effect; and climate change affects ecosystems across the globe. I chose to observe this location on the creek because of the juxtaposition of wildness and the constructed environment created to observe and understand it. The act of observation changes the patterns that we observe, whether it is though what we construct, the instruments we use to perceive, or our own physical perceptions. …..”
Leah Wilson lives in Eugene, and is a practicing artist. She obtained her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. More of her work can be seen on her website: http://www.leahwilson.com.
Curator, Roger W. Rogers Gallery