It is said, disparagingly, that the camel is a horse designed by a committee. This overlooks the fact that the camel is supremely suited for its environment and to the people who depend on a camel-based economy for their own survival. Indeed, if the camel were designed by a committee, it must have been a pretty good committee. Unfortunately, the group show of vaguely environmentally themed art, Ecotopia: the Second ICP Triennial of Photography and Video, proves the rule. The four curators who put this exhibition together, Brian Wallis, Christopher Phillips, Edward Earle, and Carol Squiers, and assistant curator Joanna Lehan, have done a disservice to art, per se, and politically engaged art.
To be sure, there are other redeeming features in this extravaganza. Perhaps most amusing is work by Sam Easterson, whose “critter cams” present the between the ears view of a variety of creatures ranging from falcons and sheep to scorpions and armadillos. It is eerie how similar the armadillo is to James Nachtwey as depicted in “War Photographer” as they both go about their business of looking for interesting subjects to consume. In its attempt to straddle the fence between “art” and “politics”, the exhibition is more a catalogue of well-known names with relatively new work that is lost in the “pod-like” installations by Brooklyn-based Matter Architecture Practice of repurposed nonbiodegradable petroleum-based polyethylene foam tubing. “Ecotopia”, itself, is a word of 1970s vintage combining feel-good notions of “Ecology” and “Utopia” which hopes for an harmonious future, the present lack of which has led to anxiety, unease, and despair, as well as some political action. Intended to “introduce striking new perspectives on humanity’s increasingly fraught relation to the natural world” and “as a critical survey of current artistic trends,” Ecotopia fails both and lands alternatively in a realm of an “ambient fear” of environmental apocalypse and in well-intended, politically motivated kitsch.