Appreciating nature is becoming more complex. Each moment, our conception of the wild is tainted with the knowledge of dying species, sea turtles stabbed by straws, and the looming destruction of megastorms. It is difficult to go out into nature without encountering plastic on the roads, cardboard on the trails, and cigarette butts in national park parking lots. Not only does consumerism change our relationship with the landscape, but it changes the landscape itself: refuse piles amass, tumble, and occasionally decompose, creating new structures in wild spaces. Sometimes nature rejects our refuse, throwing tons of plastic back onto our beaches or sending wildlife into our cities — the homes they used to inhabit — to wreak havoc and spread destruction. At Finch Lane Gallery, Megan Arné and Clara Koons reflect this reality with works that explore ideas of ownership, the relationship of the natural and the manufactured, and our relationship to space.
Arné’s work for In Here Out There is a series of large oil and acrylic paintings seemingly inspired by man-made objects. Each of her paintings is filled with abstract shapes that look like a pile you might see at your local dump, but colorful and complex. Her work brings to mind the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, towering stacks of objects rolling up and down in the waves. There’s a collage aspect to her compositions with hard lines and boundaries between objects. The forms also look like the canyons of southern Utah, with rocks and geological formations pushing out of the ground creating patterns across the landscape: reds, oranges, blues, grays, and browns come together to form intricate compositions.
Koons’s work is also abstract and mimics forms of nature. Her sculpture functions almost like outlines, contours of natural shapes. They pay homage to the simple shapes of nature and her personal transition from the landscapes of Utah, where she earned her BFA from Brigham Young University in 2018, to the packed cityscape of her current home, Seattle. They are powerful shapes, primal shapes, minimalist and colorful but venerating nature instead of bold geometric shapes, like those created by the minimalist artists of the ‘60s. “Untilted no. 6” looks like a mountaintop peaking up over a city landscape or cloudscape with only the very top visible. In Utah, we become familiar with the peak of mountain tops surrounding us, using them for navigation and orientation. Koons simplifies objects to one component or expression like Yayoi Kusama, using bright colors and patterns to create eye-catching forms.
In Here Out There as a whole is an experiment in spacing: the room is split into six sections with artworks grouped together, the gallery itself becoming a composition of objects creating their own environment of colors, shapes, and negative space. Arné and Koons have also created a collaborative work for this exhibition, “Arrangement no. 1,” which combines a large, hinged Arné painting with Koons’ conceptual sculpture. Koons’ work functions as glimpses of nature in city space with Arné’s paining creating undulating lines that look like rolling mountains or layered buildings. Koons’ sculpture is displayed on cinder blocks, hard industrial materials contrasting the softer forms of both the painting and sculpture. Their work questions how we think about space, the line between our space and nature’s, how we claim recreational spaces and how we relate to objects around us.
Koons and Arné are both young artists experimenting and finding their style and voice. Their exhibition begins to explore questions of space, ownership, and the relationship of the natural and the human made. The bright colors and shapes of both artists’ work bring a pop art, whimsical feel to the exhibition while still confronting difficult issues. The exhibition spacing creates its own form of expression in the negative space so the viewer is aware of how they move around the objects and interact with them. The artworks are also like glimpses of nature in an industrial space, pockets of natural forms contrasted with industrial materials like cinder blocks. This contrast mirrors the landscape of rocky mountain cities where the peaks are visible above buildings, a glimpse of wild places contrasting with increased urbanization.
Megan Arné & Clara Koons In Here Out There, Finch Lane Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Nov. 15.
Hannah Sandorf Davis graduated with a degree in art history with a minor in visual arts from Brigham Young University.