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Jason Middlebrook: My Landscape

MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts
Through April 7, 2014

The current obsession with the landscape provides the subtext for a body of work by Jason Middlebrook that probes the relationship between nature and human activity. Most hauntingly, in a series of large- format works on paper, he imagines a postdiluvian society in which habitable land is reduced to a network of islands. But the dramatic focal point of the exhibition is a site-specific installation inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Three terraces made of sheets of worn rectangular Styrofoam blocks (the material is recycled from an earlier show at the museum) stand in for the cantilevered concrete slabs of Wright’s masterpiece. Suspended from the trusses of the gallery, the mobile, which appears precariously heavy at first glance, is activated by the movement of water cascading over each terrace as it heads toward an opening in the floor of the gallery. A balcony overlooking the exhibition hall provides an opportunity to view this, and milled wooden planks — some of which reach a height of 20 feet — that line the gallery, from multiple points of view. On the smooth surface of the planks propped against the walls, Middlebrook traces lines, many of which are rendered in vibrant colors but echo forms found in nature (such as tree rings, spider webs, and stream beds). When viewed from a distance, the organic contours of the planks present a striking silhouette against the lofty height of the gallery interior. When seen at close range, the intensity of color and mechanical precision of the applied lines juxtaposed with the color and grain of the natural wood serve as a subtle and provocative commentary on the ways in which human activity has altered the natural landscape.