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Natural Imagery Collides with the Fantastical in New ArtSpace Show

Submitted by on February 27, 2023 – 6:06 pm

By Michelle Carter

Haverhill, MA (February 27, 2023) – Northern Essex Community College is honored to present Denature, an exhibition of artworks by Carla Fisher Schwartz, Yuko Oda, Michelle Samour, and Nadya Volicer, curated by Associate Professor Michelle Carter. The exhibition will run through March 15, 2023, in the Linda Hummel-Shea ArtSpace on the Haverhill Campus.

All are welcome to a reception on Wednesday, March 8, from 3:00 pm-5:00 p.m., and the artists will give a talk on March 1, 7 pm-8 pm via Zoom.  These events are free and open to the public.

Artwork by Michelle Samour

Natural imagery collides with the fantastical and technological in Denature. In drawings, reliefs, and installations, carefully observed natural forms become unfamiliar as they deteriorate, transform, and explode – or even reveal themselves to be fakes. Meditations on beauty merge with complex feelings about the future, like apprehension about irrevocable environmental loss or excitement about potential adaptations and new forms. All four artists work in both two dimensions and three dimensions, and precise, intricate, hands-on processes are central to their methods. Techniques include papermaking, pen and ink drawing, digital printing, 3D printing, and animation.

Artwork by Nadya Volicer

Nadya Volicer’s Oak and Magnolia series are like eulogies for trees. Created from handmade paper that incorporates charcoal, ink, and petals, the reliefs’ somber tones invoke petrified stumps, stains, and voids. Her paper pulp sculpture Now What more overtly references humans’ presence in the natural world: upon close examination, a brown tree stump topped with white fungus reveals that it is composed of countless tiny human forms.

First impressions also prove somewhat deceptive in the work of Michelle Samour and Carla Fisher Schwartz. Stylistically, Samour’s Adaptation series, drawn in brown ink with a quill pen, references early scientific illustration. But the images take a turn for the surreal as wires sprout from mushrooms and birds’ feet. Based on observations of the exterior and interior structures of plants in the Haute Savoie region, the drawings are visual interpretations of how plants and birds are being forced to adapt or die due to climate change.

Artwork by Carla Fisher Schwartz

In Undeliverables, Carla Fisher Schwartz displays rock-like sculptures in a grid of white shelves, as one might view specimens in a museum. However, her reference is to something absent: lost landmasses. Furthering the themes of artificiality and fakery, the images that wrap around the polygonal forms are taken from open-source textures depicting natural surfaces such as rock and ice, intended for use in building simulated environments in “sandbox” video games, such as Minecraft.

Yuko Oda’s digital sculpture installation Əvolution also explores the replication of natural forms by synthetic materials. Following an imagined narrative, dew drops made from clear resin lift off the surface of leaves, molting into amorphous forms that transition incrementally into realistic leaf structures. Transformation is explosive in Oda’s Winged Detonations drawings, in which acute pressures on the environment tear apart hummingbirds and send iridescent wings flying.

Artwork by Yuko Oda

Explosions notwithstanding, softness and stillness permeate much of the work in Denature. The current culture can feel saturated with apocalyptic narratives about environmental catastrophes and out-of-control technological growth. In contrast, these four artists respond with quiet moments of contemplation. Rock specimens present themselves in orderly rows, trees are memorialized in subtle circles, tiny strokes of ink coalesce into delicate hybrid creatures, and mysterious leaf-like forms rise in a graceful arc. As disorienting as change may be, there is something reassuring about how each artist imposes order in her world.

The Linda Hummel-Shea ArtSpace is located within the NECC Haverhill Campus library and is accessible to all.  Gallery events are free and open to the public.

Gallery Hours:
Monday-Thursday: 8 AM – 8 PM
Friday: 8 AM – 4 PM
Saturday and Sunday: closed
Adjusted hours for spring break March 13-15: 8 AM – 4 PM

For more information on this exhibition, contact Michelle Carter.