(photos by Spike Mafford)
Commissioned by the Seattle Center Foundation for the Next 50 celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World’s Fair, Metropolis has since been installed in Chicago, Virginia and Massachusetts and currently lives at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelphia
acrylic, aluminum, rigging cables or stand, hardware, soil, native plants, stepstools
Metropolis places a patch of plants, soil and moss from the Northwest forest within the plastic form suggesting a high-rise city. Up to four people can occupy the space by placing their heads inside the biosphere for an up-close and immersive view of the landscape and each other. In each location where the piece is installed, plants are selected for their meaning and relevance to the venue.
I continue to develop this series of works which I think of collectively as “Personal Biospheres.” People place their heads inside the biospheres, becoming part of the landscape and being immersed in the smells and up-close views of the plants, soil, and tiny creatures inside the biosphere. The biospheres re-situate the landscape within plastic, while also giving the viewer new intimacy with the land. The image of nature enclosed in plastic has a dystopic element to it, referencing a sense of alienation from nature. At the same time, when people experience the work they often comment on the feeling of sensory immersion and shift in scale that occurs when you put your head inside. The biospheres are dependent upon human care to survive. When standing inside the biospheres, people can become aware of this mutual dependence as they share the air inside with the small landscape of plants and soil.
The works have evolved from the “Portable Personal Biosphere” -a wearable acrylic dome that fits over the head and contains a miniature landscape of soil and mosses- to larger installations in which multiple people can experience these self-contained environments. In “Biosphere Built for Two,” “One Big House,” and “Metropolis” two to four people can occupy the biosphere simultaneously. The closeness of the plants and mosses is matched by a closeness and intimacy to other people that can be alternately comforting and unsettling.
In each installation the works are new and unique, as the planting plan is determined based on local conditions. The plants are selected to reveal local ecologies, or highlight hybrid landscapes. As these works have been installed in diverse international locations, the development and planning of the installation has become more part of the work. Thus, the institutional partner, plant growers, participants and others involved in creating the work are essentially co-creators of the artwork.