Newcall Gallery

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

20-08-08 | Jungle Television: Anya Henis at Newcall Gallery | Harold Grieves

Jungle Television: Anya Henis at Newcall Gallery

There’s a kaleidoscopic and regenerative feel to Anya Henis’s paintings that makes me remember that nature isn’t cordoned off by the city, but is actually quite often thriving as the opportunistic behemoth it ought to be. There’s something entirely obvious about her sprawling confusion of reclamation and decomposition in which flowers and gardens entwine urban debris, rendering a charming jumble from what could have been a desolate site. Likewise, her portrayal of deteriorated buildings and urban structures that are propped open or paved over, constantly in states of both physical and conceptual re-combinations (posters placard idealisms of what could be, scenic curtains part to reveal what could just be representations). These processes, these reconstitutions grind out narratives which face up to the everyday corrosions of urban life. Such narratives are for me a constant reminder that the urban environment operates more as a network of corridors, which as the authors of The Green City suggest, aren’t just ‘permeable to nature’ but also to people as well[i]. One way of reading that – and it’s especially prone wherever capital-flows accentuate difference – is to conceive of the city as a competitive environment which breeds a multitude of winners and losers. At least, that’s the logic of Tim Low’s encyclopaedic cataloguing of the adaptations nature’s fauna and flora have made to coexist within the urban terrain of contemporary society[ii]. Though why I’m saying ‘nature’s’ fauna and flora, when the whole argument turns around a breakdown of that city-country, nature-culture divide, I don't know. That said, if you haven’t heard enough about nature-culture pacts working out as hybrid composite systems then well, I hate to say that its just one short step to the gravy train of “nature” as redemptive-yet-indifferent, deep-ecology manifestation. Geoffrey Bowker’s gloss on ‘biodiversity’ as ‘the feel-bad word for the new millennium’, that all-domain capture which is constantly hammered above our heads as the one thing we all simultaneously know we need and can’t have, certainly gains purchase on the low-rent status of nature’s prostitution to anyone and anything which will save it[iii].

I can’t help but hope that Henis’s paintings are a million miles from that plague of idealism and despair. Actually their whole make-over plan, especially their filigree of nature detailing seems to me to have far more to do with the neo-pagan rites that have surged back into circulation through the reconstitution of rave culture as cathartic, hedonistic release, especially through its borrowing from the neo-rural oddities of freak-folk. You don’t need to look too far to find a really clear example of the widespread popularity, or at least acceptance of this model, in the near instant mainstream saturation of MGMT to realise how desperate the reress of nature-culture symbiosis is becoming. Reoccupying a peculiar hybrid of narcissistic, self-conscious stovepipe stature, with the controlled ecstasy (mdma) of an albeit Janus-faced psychedelic moment, MGMT’s resurrection of a form of nature-shamanism monopolises a purely urban, cosmological, future-tense beatification of contemporary society. Thus, whilst MGMT’s over-saturation seems more than likely to castigate them as candidates for an almost immediate backlash, one only needs run through the warm up lineage, that sees them splicing the farcical exuberance of the Flaming Lips and the Polyphonic Spree as an obsequious make-over for the shoe-gaze shuffle, a la Interpol, Strokes, Shocking Pinks. Acting as a dynamic retrogressive antidepressant, the prolix vitality of MGMT serves up a generational sensation that marks them out as blithe, spirit-pioneers volleying through a knowing, laissez faire “Retreat” programmed perfectly to go with the hip-sensationalism of ECO-awareness, that has, especially over the last year or two, suffused the media-music-art-fashion circus. But then, as Bruce Sterling so brilliantly pointed out, that sudden surge of eco-porn was never about ‘averting’ crisis, more just a sudden awareness that ‘fashion is in for revolution not just because the weather’s all screwed up, but because a failed polity has to abandon its clothes’[iv].

I’m not entirely sure that was the right path to take Henis’s paintings down. Most of the time when I look at them I keep thinking of Phillip K Dick’s ‘jiffy-view company’, which would come by every six or so months and create the view you wanted to see from your bedroom window as an immaculate and immersive 3-D image[v]. Then again, they also keep reminding me that we’re still a generation or so from that biologically determined world and so really most of the time, I feel quite excited about Henis’s portrayal of the urban terrain. Just generally, I’d like to say they remind how much we seem to be on the cusp of something else. Quite often they really do feel like a conceivable and adventurous form of an urbanised-nature-aesthetic that could potentially be a quintessentially post-industrial form of redress that finally puts to bed all that nature-culture dichotomy the paralysing synthesis of biodiversity still ensures.

Harold Grieves


[i] Nicholas Low, Brendan Gleeson, Ray Green and Darko Radovic, The Green City: Sustainable Homes, Sustainable Suburbs (Sydney, UNSW Press, 2005); 40.
[ii] Tim Low, The New Nature (Penguin, Camberwell, 2003).
[iii] Geoffrey C. Bowker, ‘Time, Money, and Biodiversity’, Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems, eds Aihwa Ong & Stephen Collier (London, Blackwell, 2005); 107.
[iv] Bruce Sterling, ‘Hot Trends’, Artforum (Summer, 2006); 145
[v] Philip K. Dick, Galactic Pot-Healer (London, Pan Books, 1972); 15.