How Do We Embody Natural Spaces?
Nicola López and Paula Wilson’s exhibition Becoming Land considers anthropocentric relationships with New Mexico’s desert landscapes.
Rachel Harris-Huffman January 30, 2023
Nicola López and Paula Wilson: Becoming Land at the Albuquerque Museum presents the work of two artists who, through mixed media interpretations of human interventions in New Mexico’s desert landscapes, examine anthropocentric relationships with the land. The exhibition is contextually and physically placed front-and-center with a series of three simultaneous exhibitions, featuring historic and contemporary artists whose work engages the natural world. Becoming Land, Shi Guorui: Ab/Sense-Pre/Sense, Kiki Smith: From the Creek, and Thomas Cole: Memory and Inspiration, occupy the museum’s main gallery.
Wilson, who lives in the small town of Carrizozo, New Mexico, presents artwork that feels deeply personal and centers women’s bodies as “places” of observation, inhabitation, and projection. In “Yucca Rising” (2021), the body does not exist within the landscape but becomes a part of it. At more than 15-feet tall, the figure rises well above other artworks in the room, its bowed head placed strategically between ceiling support beams. Combining varietal painting and printmaking techniques and media on muslin, the figure’s dress, adorned with patterns of yucca plants, seedpods, and flowers surrounding a central image of a large blooming yucca plant in front of a darkening sky, literally embodies the landscape.
In “New Development” (2012), Wilson presents an image of an amphora holding a blooming cactus. The handles of the vessel are formed by figures of a pregnant woman and a man with an erect penis. Each figure wears headphones, anchoring them in contemporary times, though their nude bodies are timeless. On the body of the vase is an image of a landscape. A modern figure in a patterned outfit stands, with a dog, gazing from precipice across the path of a winding river that cuts through plains and disappears into distant hills. The imagery is highly suggestive of fecundity. Nicola López was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and now lives and works in Brooklyn. Her mixed-media works engage printmaking and photographic processes to present speculative landscapes, interrupted by the collapsing skeletons of imagined industrial structures. Printed as collagraphs over photographs of White Sands National Park, the images are reminiscent of the infrastructure scenes of the late Massachusetts-based painter and printmaker Donald Stoltenberg who specialized in collagraph.
In her Apparition series, López chose to set her structures in the bright gypsum dune fields of White Sands, where the oldest known fossilized human footprints in North America were discovered. Also in the area is the White Sands Missile Range, a US Army testing area and firing range that includes the infamous Trinity Site, a circular scar upon the earth where the first atomic bomb was tested. The history and development of White Sands combined with López’s futuristic abandoned structures present a clever commentary on the interaction of the natural and built environment. Will López’s derelict structures be swallowed by their environment just as previous evidence of human habitation in the area has been shrouded by sand?
Becoming Land offers an exciting and surprising variety of interpretations of landscapes that begs viewers to reconsider preconceived definitions of what landscape means, how it can be represented, and how we humans interact with and embody natural spaces.
Installation view of Nicola López and Paula Wilson: Becoming Land (2022-2023) at the Albuquerque Museum; (left) Paula Wilson, “Yucca Rising” (2021, woodblock print, relief print, trace monoprint, monotype, acrylic, and oil on muslin (photo Rachel Harris-Huffman/Hyperallergic)
Paul Wilson, “New Development” (2012), intaglio with screen print on Somerset textured soft white paper (courtesy the Albuquerque Museum)
Nicola López and Paula Wilson: Becoming Land continues at the Albuquerque Museum (2000 Mountain Road NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico) through February 12. The exhibition was organized by the museum.