Sunday, July 15, 2012

open book

Steve Miller, Global Outpost, 2011, inkjet and silkscreen on canvas, 40 x 60 inches
Steve Miller                      
Saúde do Planeta 

Steve Miller's new works, now on view at Harper's Books, stand in the cross hairs of the nature/culture divide.In Saúde do Planeta (Health of the Planet), Miller weds art and intellect in a body of work that celebrates the beauty and peril of the Brazilian rainforest, one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the world.

Snake River, 2011, silk-screen book, glass, steel, 29 x 28 1/2 x 6 inches

Miller, a born and bred New Yorker, began to x-ray Amazonian plant species during a 2007 sojourn to Brazil. The resulting imagery, elegiac and gossamer, focused on the plight of the rainforest, endangered by uncontrolled deforestation that claims -- worldwide -- over 6,000 acres per hour. Miller, who refers to the Brazilian rainforest the lungs of the planet, started traveling there as often as possible. He learned Portuguese, found a hospital to assist in creating digital x-rays of flora and fauna, and became indebted to the idea of planet earth and its future as his subject matter. Since then, Miller's works have become symbolic of a planet in the throes of utter sacrifice -- one in which humankind's progress has superceded the most basic needs of the planet.

Rio Gato, 2009, acrylic & silkscreen on canvas

For Miller, art and technology met in the 1980s when his first experiments with computers began.

Since then, his oeuvre has grown to include research into particle physics, molecular biology, archeology, technology and here and there, throwing paint.

At Harper's, he goes one further. Merging this electric imagery with customized book editions, the new works are sculptural tomes that integrate gesture, intellect, the organic and the scientific. A book resides within each sculpture, opened behind glass to one of many pages that have been addressed by Miller with silkscreens of various cross-sections of nature vs. culture. The sculptures can morph at will, just by turning a page. 

Steve Miller and I exchanged a few thoughts by email earlier this week:
JG: How do you generate the x-rays of animals?

SM: The Amazon animals were all found in collaboration with Brazil's oldest environmental research institute in Belem, on the Amazon river. I worked with a zoo, a local aviary and a fishery. In the case of the alligator, we transported a live (but sedated) alligator in the back of a pickup truck to a radiology clinic in Belem. The mouth of the alligator was bound with a rope. Under these circumstances, this specimen was most cooperative and then I took the digital x-ray. I visited all the animals the next day in the zoo -- they seemed to have a good attitude about having participated in the project. 

The piranhas was a request I made to some fishermen in the local market. They caught the piranhas in the morning and I packed them on ice for their evening at the radiology clinic. The chest of ice leaked in my hotel room and in the tropical heat, the stench of fish permeated my room for a week.

 JG: How do you choose which books you'll utilize -- how does your imagery relate, or not relate, to the content of the book?

SM: All the books are chosen for their content. Many are about Brazil, or the environment. Al Gore's book, Earth in Balance, is one -- it's an important piece of world awareness regarding the health of the planet. The book is part of a sculpture in which a snake swallows a rat. To make the sculpture complete, I asked Vice President Gore to sign the book.

SM: Often, on top of the page of these books I silkscreen images of the wires from the favelas (the ghettos or shanty towns found outside urban areas) in Rio. These wires represent the uncontrolled and chaotic need for the resources that are pictured in the books. 

JG: Has learning to speak Portuguese revealed anything to you about Brazilian culture?

SM: You can enter a larger cultural conversation that would otherwise exclude you if you can only operate in English. Portuguese is a necessity if you are anywhere except Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. My Portuguese is pretty basic -- I can have a conversation and ask directions. Believe me, when the car breaks down in Bahia and no one speaks English, that's where the rubber hits the road.

Also, Portuguese is a romance language and when you listen to the lyrics of Vinicius de Moraes you hear poetry that reflects the spirit and beauty of Brazil. The flow of Brazilian Portuguese is rhythmic, musical and sensual.

Radiant child, indeed.

The show is on view through August 13th.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great work Steve.
Beautiful and insistent as reminders to speak up.
The second half of the following quote is Madison Avenue spin at it's most propagandastic;
"Miller's works have become symbolic of a planet in the throes of utter sacrifice -- one in which humankind's progress has superceded the most basic needs of the planet."

Is it possible to further bastardize the word 'Progress'?!?

I submit:

Miller's works have become symbolic of the death of the human race--
utter divorce from the planet which hosts it and which can no longer supports it's health"