Across several series of haunting, captivating large-scale color photographs of landscapes, suburbs and cities, Anna Collette
introduces gorgeous wrinkles to the opposition between civilization and wilderness. The images in her Invasive Species series
(2005-07), at Kris Graves Projects
through February 27, are photographs of contemporary ruins of a very different sort from those shot by Andrew Moore
, James Griffioen
or Kevin Bauman
. To be sure, Collette has worked with that sort of imagery as well—of cities peeling apart to reveal a resilient environment or falling back completely to a landscape all too happy to swallow them up—but these images are concerned with a more imperceptible, more fundamentally unsettling and hostile takeover.
Each untitled image in the Invasive Species
series is rich in crisply focused details, overlapping shades of green and minute, Pollock-esque
flecks of color where the occasional flower pokes through the thick foliage. The over-the-top saturation and baroque beauty of these photos, which at times evoke the daubed, scintillating trees of Gustav Klimt
and the lush tropical jungles of Henri Rousseau
, can also make them appear virtually abstract. With little other than leaves to isolate within the composition, with rarely more than a tiny corner of sky visible in the distance, Collette's photographs take on airs of abstract expressionist paintings. Successive picture planes flow into one another, only distinguishable because of their contrasting green hues and varying densities of leafy dots like pointillist paintings. Here the pure geometry lurking under Collette's sprawling wilderness nearly bursts through into something like a diffuse Mark Rothko color field, Barnett Newman monochrome or Tauba Auerbach
grid. Formally, the photographs resemble giant waves of green rushing at the camera as much as eerily still woods. This sense of spreading, all-enveloping fluidity, as it happens, gets at the heart of Collette's project.
Though our eyes initially scour the verdant photographs looking for some detail to rest on—in one image a looming vertical form suggests an overgrown clone of Jeff Koons' "Puppy
"—the layer of uniform shrubbery spreading over each vista like an oil patch is just the point. The subject of Collette's photos isn't, as one might initially surmise, a sprawling wild landscape so virginal and unblemished that it's practically oppressive. Rather, these forests in the northeastern United States are the latest front in the so far futile struggle between native plants and Kudzu
. The vine is native to the south of Japan and southeast China, but since being introduced in Florida has spread to cover about a third of the U.S. and is now making its way through the mid-Atlantic and northeast states. This slow, as yet unstoppable ground invasion, constantly and imperceptibly spreading to new battlefields, threatens the very landscape that is so bound up in ideas of American identity and ideology.
With this knowledge, Collette's vaguely ominous photographs take on a terrifying enormity. The Kudzu vines become an uncanny blob-like monster that threatens to smother all difference and distinction under an indiscriminate blanket of crawling, climbing, slithering extensions. There's a genetic, even digital virus-like quality to the plant's all-enveloping spread. The formal beauty of each image produces a compelling tension with the environmental disaster it depicts. More so than Collette's other series—most recently a set of tangled forest landscapes shot on a winter night shown at Sasha Wolf Gallery
makes a struggle and a transformation that is very abstract, immense and elusive extremely real and tangible. That she does so with such magical pastoral vitality makes her project all the more captivating.
(photo credits: Anna Collette, Kris Graves Projects)