In Reanimator, playful sculptures explore a future in which nature claims us back
It’s not often that an exhibition compels you to ponder the conflicted relationship between humanity and nature, especially in a space dedicated to collecting some of the richest and most important historical objects of civilization.
But that’s exactly what Jude Griebel accomplished with his whimsical exhibition Reanimator, currently on exhibit at the Redpath Museum. His sculptures evoke the fragile and ephemeral nature of humanity, coyly reminding us that society toes a very fine line between cohabitation with, and surrender to, nature. Griebel achieves this dichotomy through incredibly political and poignant sculptures.
It’s no coincidence that Griebel’s work is being displayed in a museum which celebrates natural history. The setting offers the perfect arena to embrace and digest the message he is trying to convey. His works are scattered throughout the natural history collection. As you walk around in search of his next sculpture, you get to observe pieces from the permanent collection: dinosaur bones, animals frozen in time, a dried and stretched polar bear skin. In this setting, each sculpture could easily be interpreted as being native to the museum.
The exhibition also serves as a reflective exercise. Will our time one day be reduced to simply another epoch in the great history of the world, with the only traces remaining in museums?
Griebel purposefully and meticulously arranged his works this way in order to reverse the typical power roles of humans over the environment.
He uses the very aesthetic employed in museums to get his point across, saying: “We often take the institutional display of nature for granted, as a formal understanding, when it is quite unnatural. By subverting this type of display through my fictional narratives, I am questioning what we often consider to be fact, as well as our attitudes towards other species.”
Reanimator reflects Griebel’s interest in testing what models and dioramas portray as the truth. His work is instead imbued with alternative psychological perceptions of the body and nature.
“These works explore the dichotomous tendencies of human desire to romanticize and meld with, yet remain autonomous from the natural world,” said Griebel.
A Concordia alumnus, Griebel graduated with a MFA in sculpture and ceramics in 2014.
His work addresses these very heavy themes of human demise in a playful fashion. His intricate and detailed sculptures include hands extending out of the Earth, cradling grasshoppers and butterflies, snails and mice coupling. The hands symbolize humanity, in the face of a nature that is sincerely believed to be tameable. The copulating animals are a symbol of the natural world proliferating over humanity.
“The works all have human anatomical elements present. I am interested in how, as a species, we often see ourselves as independent from the natural world. Collectively, the works represent a sort of metaphorical graveyard where bodies have been reconnected to the ground,” said Griebel.
Two of Reanimator’s strongest pieces are in the lobby of the Redpath, right as you walk in. In “Boneyard,” two jackrabbits couple over a grave. In “Stumped,” a log is stuffed in a pair of jeans stands with two branches as legs, connecting it to the ground. An axe is firmly embedded in the top of the log while a bird rests on the handle.
On the second floor of the museum, “Fertile” and Griebel’s other pieces featuring hands and insects are peppered among the permanent collection. “Fertile” in particular presents a very political statement for such a playfully constructed sculpture. A robin picks at worms coming out from a small, human-like creature constructed of mud and clay, with flowers for eyes. Worms are exiting from the creature’s body, providing the robin with food. In this work, not only has nature claimed us back, but we have become its lunch.
The overall significance for the exhibition is clear: nature will assert its dominance over civilization and right the wrongs humanity committed by taking advantage of the natural world around us. In Reanimator, the tables have turned, and the dominant relationship humanity has had over nature is no longer true.
Griebel’s work demonstrates an incredible amount of meticulous detail, from whiskers on rabbits, tufts of grass, realistic shading of mushrooms, insects, rocks and tree bark. Analyzing his work makes the viewer contemplate their current role in the world while whimsically mulling over the possibility of nature claiming us back, where humans are no longer the apex predator, and where wildlife is dancing over our graves.
Reanimator will be on display at the Redpath Museum until May 26. The museum is open from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The suggested amount to donate to the museum for adults is $10.