Excerpt from Crisis Management and the Strange Light Touch: The Work of Andrea Gardner by Evelyn Reilly
In Gardner’s work, the extremely complicated universe of still life is at continuous play — the co-presence of joy (harvest! fertility!) and grief (transience, decay), the hyperreal fruit, the dead animals, the uncomfortable visual hush of “stilled” life — all with an overlay of contemporary environmental worriedness.
But the dark side is always kept within the bounds of an envelope of the fey, the coy, the fable-like. Miniature deer inhabit the sawn-off limbs of a tree. John the Baptist wears a child-like frown and flowers coat his lush beard. It’s the land of the doll house, the shadow box, the diorama; and somewhere among the fake foliage Ms. Victoriana is marrying her cousin, Gothic ghoulishness, while secretly and more lastingly carrying on with the naturalist who travelled with Captain James Cook. To put it more Americanly, in Gardner’s work Walt Whitman’s This Compost — “Now I am terrified at the Earth . . . It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions” — hybridizes with the Emily Dickinson who wore a girlish mask as cover for the fact that she was carrying explosive materials.
Two of my favorite pieces involve mannequins and astroturf (or maybe it’s just green pile carpeting). In “Pasture of Marvels” tiny sheep graze over the green carpeted chest of a figure lying like a giantess against a backdrop of a bad painting of the New Zealand coast. In the second, an impossibly perfect female arm, braceletted oh so femininely with the same grass-like substance, reaches down out of — the heavens? the sky? — seemingly to trade a sprig of plastic pine needles for one held by a second arm reaching up to meet it. Is it over-the-top to see this as an eco-feminist reworking of the famous Sistine God/Adam “reach”? By giving this piece the bitterly ironic title “Land Management” and substituting one of the most muscular gestures of the Humanist era with a overtly fem, but totally ambiguous, “offering” or “exchange,” Gardner manages to evoke large and troubling questions with the strangest of light touches. In the best of Gardner’s work, such moments of suspended animation trouble all our notions of nature, landscape, stewardship, and whatever human responsibility was supposedly given by God to man (sic).
“Crisis is a Hair/Toward which the forces creep,” wrote Dickinson, “To suspend the Breath/Is the most we can.”
Well, maybe not “the most,” but when the caught breath sparks larger moments of aesthetic attention and social intention, perhaps the creeping forces can be encouraged to re-align.