Dana Fritz: Terraria Gigantica
Is there such a thing as an untouched natural environment anymore? I find this question both fascinating and terrifying. Even in the most extreme and remote terrains, human influence is present. Power-lines, radio towers, research stations, and pipelines can be found on the tops of mountains, across deserts, forests and rivers. The notion that human influence has seeped into every nook of every ecosystem on Earth can be overwhelming, and that’s why it’s so satisfying to get lost in Dana Fritz’s new publication Terraria Gigantica: The World under Glass, published by the University of New Mexico Press.
Fritz’s work photographing contemporary “glasshouses” encompasses so much of the nuance intrinsic to the debate over humanity’s place in the environment. I find myself returning to images of seemingly dense, misty rainforest or rough desert canyons only to be ripped away from this perceived natural beauty by a glass railing or stray fire alarm. Elements of irony, obfuscation, and abstraction pull the viewer into a deeper conversation about the need to recreate and encapsulate our environment and whether, in its recreation, we are perpetuating the harms we’ve inflicted on those environments in the first place. What justifications are there for spending money, time, and massive amounts of energy to sustain an enclosed rainforest in Nebraska? In Fritz’s words, we are being asked to “reflect on the distinction between the natural and the artificial in order to contemplate nature’s future.”
Dana Fritz is a Professor in the School of Art, Art History & Design at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where her work in photography examines how humans shape and represent the land. Her honors include an Arizona Commission on the Arts Fellowship, a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange to Japan, the Society for Photographic Education Imagemaker Award and Juror’s Awards in national exhibitions. Fritz’s work has been exhibited widely in the U.S. including at the Phoenix Art Museum, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, the Griffin Museum of Photography, and the Sheldon Museum of Art. International venues include Château de Villandry in France, Xi’an Jiaotong University Art Museum in China, and Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Place M, and Nihonbashi Institute of Contemporary Arts in Japan. Her work is held in several collections including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; New Mexico State University,
Las Cruces; Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Arizona; The Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art; and Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris. Fritz has been awarded artist residencies at locations known for their significant cultural histories and gardens or unique landscapes: Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, California; Château de Rochefort-en- Terre in Brittany, France; Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona; PLAYA in Summer Lake, Oregon; and Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts in Saratoga, Wyoming. University of New Mexico Press published her monograph, Terraria Gigantica: The World under Glass, in 2017.
The photographs in Terraria Gigantica: The World under Glass frame the world’s largest enclosed landscapes as working symbols of our complex relationship with the environment. In Arizona’s Biosphere 2, Cornwall’s Eden Project, and Nebraska’s Lied Jungle and Desert Dome at the Henry Doorly Zoo, plants are grown amid carefully constructed representations of the natural world for entertainment, education, scientific research, and conservation. While technical demands inform the design of these spaces, the juxtapositions of natural and artificial elements generate striking visual paradoxes. I turn away from visitors’ prepared sight lines, seeking views that dispel the illusion of natural conditions. Asking questions about what it means to create and contain landscapes, and whether these spaces supplement or replace those outside, I invite contemplation of our ecological future.
If you’re in or around Chicago, Dana will be participating in a book signing party at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago on Thursday, December 7 at 5:00 pm. where books will be available for purchase.
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