Radka Salcmannova and Matthew Ortiz – “Poison Green”: Ecology as Ideology (Czech Center Gallery, NYC)

Poison Green, the exhibit currently on display at Czech Center, attempts to describe the problem of ecosystems and social structures in cities around the world. What is ecology, and what is our approach to it? Poison Green shows ecology as an ideology made by the government in the 21st century.

To be “green” in this day and age is to be ecologically sound and responsible. Ecology has become a religion in which the public places its faith in the government and the manufacturers of “green” products. We blindly believe that their practices are right, are good, but what do these right and good products cost us in the grand scheme of things?

In the 21st century, ecology has become a religion. Religion is ideology, and ideology is mystification.

Natural, or organic, products come about through inorganic ways. Society trusts that a product’s labeling of “organic” means that everything involved in making that product is green, but there are things unseen by the consumer.

It is a mystery created by the “eco” or “bio” manufacturers, together with the government, who influence the latest “green” trend. We will buy a product because it is associated with nature. The packaging might be green in color, or the label displays a mountain range under the word “green.” One may purchase a “green” cleaning agent because it is natural, when in fact, it has nothing at all to do with nature. Fundamentally, this “green” cleaner is a chemical made to destroy other natural products such as germs or grime. Nature, consequently, suffers under human hands as we extract these chemicals from nature and our disturbed landscapes around us.

Poison Green presents a group of artists who are generally not brought together through their approaches to and perceptions of art. However, they have in common this idea that society is unaware of what in fact lies behind our “green” products. Poison Green reflects the ideology of our current eco-systems, and they attempt to demystify the ideologies inherent in our understanding of nature. They reflect on convention and stereotypes, and they look for possible environmental models that can be socially integrated into our daily lives and culture.

Presented in this  show are Czech and international artists alike: 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). They show is curated by Kristyna and Marek Milde. Together they create a project where everyone attempts to express the factors of this “green” paradox.

The title, Poison Green, came from the definition of the pigment used in Paris by impressionist artists. It was well know for its deep, glossy intensity of color. After a decade of this power pigment’s use, it was discovered to be highly toxic and dangerous to whomever used it.

One of the art pieces, which is used as a logo to represent the show, a pine-tree shaped air freshener found often in yellow taxi cabs, presents the work of Silvina Arismendi. Her installation, called Wonder Tree, is made up of 400 of these pine tree air fresheners. This synthetic product, which seems like a “green” tree – it is an image of nature; a tree that makes the air around you smell nice – is a precise examination on the mystification and illusion surrounding us under the “green” ideology. When experiencing one air-freshener tree in the world, its smell is present and conspicuous, but on Arismendi’s scale of using this tree, it is made clear the devastating effect these products can have on nature.

Several other artists in the show are adept at methods of investigative research and applying their learnings to topics such as energy, building methods, design, food production, science, social and educational models, and how they impact nature. Two art pieces from New York-based Austrian artist Mathias Kessler came together to create a compelling view into this “green” disparity. In the center is a refrigerator stocked with Coors Light beer. Mounted behind the fridge is an assembly of photographs revealing the devastated landscape of mountain ranges destroyed by “green” production; while intact, glorious mountain ranges are used as “green” visuals to sell the beer.

Slovenian philosopher, senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology and at the University of Ljubljana and numerous American universities, the documentary Examined Life presents Slavoj Zizek. Zizek really hones in on the concept that nature is so manipulated and molested by human hands, that it itself is no longer nature or natural.

The concept of the show is to show the audience this problem between nature and ecology; how they are separate entities. “Green” products were definitely green before and even during industrial times. Industrial times brought about mass production in many sectors of commerce, but even still, food was produced and supported regionally. Gardens were tended by the community, and it, thus, brought the community together and encouraged interaction. Now, we stay in our own worlds at the grocery store, buying these supposed “green” products, barely interacting with anybody, while nature still pays a price for our “green” conscientiousness.

Combating this outcome of no interaction, Czech Center features on its rooftop small gardens tended to by the artists and Czech Center faculty. Guests and employees alike are interacting if not to water the garden, to enjoy its fruits and vegetables together; all under “green” methods of care. The exhibition runs from June 26 to September 2.

Radka Salcmannova

Edited by: Matthew Ortiz


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