A dad and his daughters, loving life in New York City

Thursday, September 28

Ecotopia at the ICP

The natural world, and how we interact with it (read: destroy it, mostly) is the subject of the Second International Center of Photography's Triennial. Since Bo and Co are always intrigued by animals, and get appropriately outraged at humanity's environmental suicide, and, most important on this day, since a technical glitch prevented us from doing what we really came to midtown to do—play Cruel 2 Be Kind: The Benevolent Assassin's Game—the three of us went to ICP last Saturday to see Ecotopia.

No question, there are many powerful images here. I loved two of Mitch Epstein's shots—one of Biloxi, Mississippi, in Katrina's aftermath; another of a cozy West Virginia home in the shadow of a nuclear power plant—which brilliantly capture different combinations of benign man and scary man and benign nature and scary nature. Simon Norfolk's haunting landscapes, littered with the detrius of war—scatterings of shell casings, a burned-out tank—plant the seed of a suggestion that maybe Mother Nature will outlast her unruly children after all. Doug Aitken builds a bird-megalapolis from FedEx boxes, with chaotic and witty results.

Catherine Chalmers offers an extreme-close-up video of insects, spiders, beetles, snakes and newts that's simultaneously beautiful and repellent, and altogether mesmerizing. Harri Kallo's biologically-accurate recreation of dodo birds, shot in what once was their natural habitat on the Island of Mauritius, is both sad and oddly exhilarating, as if a flock of these ridiculous-looking creatures had actually been discovered. And the three of us all agreed that the video-installation caves and outcroppings—made from (presumably recycled) black packing material—looked cool and worked well at breaking up the visual presentation.

But for every hit, there was a least one misfire. Sam Easteron's lengthy series of [Insert Animal Name]-cams was just silly, we thought, hitting bottom with the nano-second-long Fly-cam. I didn't really get Marine Hugonnier's video of a balloon ride to the Matterhorn, which comes right out and insists that I, the shallow viewer, would prefer the images to seem more like a postcard, which I didn't. And I thought Mary Mattingly's watery, futuristic visions of nomads clad in "wearable houses" felt like just another post-apocalypse cliché.

All in all, about as mixed a cultural experience as a typical Saturday afternoon in Chelsea. The biggest difference: galleries are free. Ecotopia will be at the ICP, on 43rd Street and 6th Avenue, until early January.

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