Super Natural Sublime

Timber, plastic, water pumps, hose, buckets, paper, cardboard, electric motor, UV lights, wire, polyurethane foam, lead; 2009

Exhibited at Westspace, 2009

Catalogue Essay

The following excerpt describes the attractive attributes of a terrarium – a novel form of garden particularly popular in the 70s and 80s in which an assemblage of plants is arranged and enclosed within a glass tank:

‘Terrariums provide a unique method of indoor gardening enabling both the seasoned green thumber and the novice to enjoy nature’s greenery in an encapsulated form. Like an incubator, a terrarium with its ideal conditions protects its contents from the outside world.’

In this way, a terrarium could be seen as a contrived, miniature Eden, protected from the contaminants of the external world. Is it a tragedy that the tiny scale of terrariums inhibits our physical entry? We gain access to an enjoyment of it only on an ornamental level; we cannot experience its Edenesque purity through our senses of touch or smell. Our very human existences, with all the pollutants of a fallen world (corruption, greed, germs, etc) in this innocent atmosphere would only re-enact the fall of Adam and Eve.

The human obsession with nature – whether in regards to understanding it, exploiting it, or simply appreciating it – has been a hot topic for investigation since the Enlightenment. Here began the conscious division of nature from humankind, and the dissection of nature’s forces into the neat categories of the sublime (fearsome) and the picturesque (pretty). Here, also, began the battle to conquer and repossess that threatening sublime force of nature, perhaps in an attempt to evoke once more the less dangerous myth of Eden.

The impossibility of this is apparent from the start; the attractiveness of Eden’s purity stems from its so-called innocence. The informed nature of human reason, the sword that defeated the sublime, is inherently sly and crafty. Such a tool gave rise to events like industrial progress and capitalism, and such events are what prohibit us from ever achieving a utopian landscape. The closest you will ever get to this is through watching a terrarium grow.

Andy Hutson’s Super Natural Sublime employs carefully reasoned scientific equations and processes to produce a DIY recreation of the sublime. Hutson poses as a paper botanist in the making of this installation, where the Creator’s labour is laid out for the enjoyment of the human audience, whose physical presence literally affects the garden’s fateful demise, thanks to a seemingly disordered yet actually intricate system of motion sensors, water pumps and sprinklers.

Underlying Hutson’s approach, and his willingness to destroy his art, are two major comments: one directed towards the traditional processes of recording natural history via means such as taxonomy, preservation or archival classification and documentation; and two, a challenging of the art market where importance is frequently placed on the saleable, tangible object.

Hutson’s anarchic project both dismisses scientific reason’s urge to collect, categorise and control the natural environment, as well as simulating an ecosystem that reflects the real world’s destruction of the environment via the unsustainable practices that form the backbone of our day-to-day existence. The fragility of the structure is highlighted by the fact that the mere presence of the audience in its space is the catalyst for its breakdown. And the tragic impermanence of such beautiful objects defies institutions such as museums, which rely heavily on applied science and white gloves to conserve its relics in the name of longevity of public display; as well as systems such as capitalism, which operates via the exchange of tactile goods for money, and which the art market is essentially based upon.

Perhaps the transient nature of Hutson’s art will encourage us to become less precious about objects, or about the apparent loss of artistic aura. Attention is perhaps better paid to experiences, which, although less tangible than an object, are usually more fun. There is a sense of the beautiful in Hutson’s work, perhaps because there is always a beautiful kind of sadness when beautiful things depart; or perhaps because its aesthetic beauty evokes the senses of both wonder and humour, two experiences which are always sublimely beautiful.

© Chad Chan, 2009