Where we end and nature begins

Arts / Article

There’s just one day left to view “Prime Candidates,” the fascinating show currently up at 2739 Edwin in Hamtramck. Curator and gallery owner Steve Panton considers the work on display part of Detroit’s “dirtgeist,” a movement he associates with trash (plastic bags, especially) and nature. In it, participating local artists Scotty Slade and Andrew Thompson, as well as the Canadian duo Duke and Battersby, all pose intriguing questions about the points of intersection between human domesticity and the natural world.

Slade’s work, the first you’ll encounter, is fashioned out of materials like tall, leafless trees, the discarded exoskeletons of cicadas and, most arrestingly, animal hides and bones obtained from the slaughterhouses of Detroit’s Eastern Market. Slade has arranged these materials into a fantastic scene populated by two hybrid creatures, weird beings that exist somewhere in between species (including our own). A third creature, the viewer, is inserted into the work via a real-time, interactive video component. Slade’s work (and especially his process, which involves tanning the hides and boiling the bones) questions and indeed actively resists our increasing distance from the natural world.

Duke and Battersby’s work bridges that same divide, but it uses a transgressive, interspecies romance to do it. With a captivating (and at times hilarious) short film and several sculptures, including wonderful, diorama-like scenes in vitrines, they tell the curiously affecting story of a scientist, the chimpanzee she loves and the public outcry that greets their unusual union. It’s bold work in subject matter and execution, artfully prodding the viewer to consider the genetic similarity of humans and chimps and the socially enforced boundaries that usually keep us congregating with our own kind.

With a witty touch and a metaphor borrowed from the natural world, Thompson’s piece addresses a very human problem of material culture:  overabundance. His astonishing “laundry tornado” consists of a plain, white laundry basket, out of which emerges a massive stack of laundry that grows to an incredible height of 14 feet, blooming dramatically as it swoops toward the gallery’s windows. It’s wonderful work, spectacular yet intimate, and accessible to anyone who’s ever wondered how, exactly, they’ve managed to accumulate that much dirty laundry.“Prime Candidates” is on view Saturday, July 9, from 1 to 6 p.m. Don’t miss the closing reception at 8:00 that night, which will include artist talks by Slade and Thompson, as well as a conversation and video screenings with Duke and Battersby.