Commentary
5:00 am
Wed September 4, 2013

Art Review: Nature's Toolbox

Charles Lee, 'Dissipative System', 2010. Diamond ink jet print, 27 x 30 in. Courtesy of Bios Design Collective and the Art Works for Change traveling exhibition, Nature's Toolbox: Biodiversity, Art and Invention

Over the Labor Day weekend, the Ulrich Museum opened their new fall exhibition: Nature’s Toolbox: Biodiversity, Art and Invention. The exhibition aims to raise awareness of the human impact on the environment.

An incredible range of materials is used in the artworks, which plays well into the biodiversity theme. BioHarmonious, a beautifully designed video game played on an Xbox, challenges visitors to balance life on an industrial planet and natural planet with the goal of achieving healthy symbiosis between the two.

In a work called Just Did It, a single grain of sand, viewed through a microscope, is carved with the image of Neil Armstrong’s moon footprint.

Donna Ozawa’s The Waribashi Project assembles thousands of used wooden chopsticks in spiraling mounds on the floor, with a large nest-like structure in the center. Ozawa’s installation represents the intense deforestation caused by the worldwide use of disposable chopsticks and the subsequent loss of natural habitats.

Each of the works in Nature’s Toolbox is compelling in its own right, but the framework of the show – particularly the didactic wall texts – describes complex problems in simplified terms and offers idealized solutions filled with nudgy language.

In the exhibition, visitors are given questions like “What happens when a million species vanish from the planet? Could we eventually be one of them?” The show presents itself as a celebration of biodiversity, creativity and ingenuity. But after confronting some of the stark realities of our current environmental situation, I didn’t feel much like celebrating.