Some. inspired by the vision of a w-holy existence where human will and human instinct would coexist in harmony with the wild, mean to halt the de-naturation of the world. They hope to contain the forces unleashed by our categorical, hierarchical brain. But what adaptive instinct or evolutionary strategy can we deploy to reverse such a tremendous process. Lest not forget that in our march towards the noble purified ideal, humanity has not only accelerated its departure from nature but reduced both our responses to nature and the state of the natural to post-instinctual responses. Our institutions as our art become programmatic, not instinctual.
While admiring the pieces at the Toronto Sculpture Garden one can't help noticing the belfry across the street and consider the two major shapers of western consciousness: technology and monasticism. The cultural forces that gave shape to monasticism are rooted in the same instinct that compels the wolves to seek security in their numbers. Today as in the dark ages we value communal life and rely on it to execute our selfish agenda. Our social institutions still bear the mark of the proto-democratic associations fraternities and guilds, conferring power and distributing prerogatives to subscribers of a common political stock. Feral dogs, packs of wolves, political animal, grant adjudicator; we are all competing for a place at the bus shelter.
While the installation invokes a spell against progress, and from the drawing of a clearcut forest, an indictment on the very notion of progress, it also compromises the very principle of 'natural' . The media which embodies the work, namely metallurgy, is the dominant technology of the industrial powers. To some degree the shelter installation owes it to large scale production processes courtesy of development. And ultimately, the sculptures proper were forged in the industrial matrix that generates the world's heavy machinery and manufacturing equipment.
One cannot expect our techno-age to design without technology, just as one cannot induce spiritual holiness into the fragmented experience of modernity. The metal of the bus shelter and that of the wolves adhere to the secular struggle of man to subject the organic, to dis-member the whole. It is impossible not to relate our technologies with the destruction of the natural-aboriginal habitat. Barkhouse and Belmore want us to react, think, ponder, and question the very place our lives occupy in the sanctuary of life, indeed a high minded request, but how can this be accomplished without alliance to the powers of industry, without consenting with Mac, Caterpillar, Black & Decker, Dupont et al?
Barkhouse and Belmores' sculpture-installation demonstrates that technology has transformed most aspects of western life and that it's a tall order to expect our culture will dismantle the industrial infrastructure on which our every day existence are based for the sake of the 'natural'.
WORDS: Harold Alegria-Ortiz
PHOTOS: Michael Alstad & Harold Alegria-Ortiz
LICHEN is on view at the Toronto Sculpture Garden until April 15th 1998.