New York

Patricia Johanson

Rosa Esman Gallery

The wit was flying high in Patricia Johanson’s show. Only a real nitpicking spoilsport wouldn’t have enjoyed it. Johanson does a subspecies of earthworks, what might be termed “natureworks.” The difference for Johanson is that (1) she must realize that when you make very big sculptures they end up being a form of architecture, and (2) function must surrender to form, which surrenders to use. In Johanson’s work, any naturally occurring form can be turned into a manmade structure with very little transformation from nature to culture. Her drawings simulate architectural plans which in most cases strike the viewer as pure whimsy. There is a pine needle for a suspension bridge, a venus fern for a ramp, a fungus as a staircase, and so on. The small, sometimes microscopic, biological forms are enlarged (in the mind, of course) to create cultural usables. This is to understand—and Johanson doesn’t push the point—that manmade forms usually conform, consciously or not, to natural forms and processes; that most cultural forms relate to natural phenomena, no matter how far removed they might seem from a natural source. Johanson argues that there might be no reason to reduce natural form when it is borrowed, but to take it in all its eccentricity and detail, and use it that way in our living environment.

Perhaps the house which is designed to the shape and structure of an oak leaf has little chance of being built. All of the ideas are not so unrealizable. Accompanying her drawings was a rock garden (the garden as a mediation between the natural and the architectural). Large round rocks were laid out on the floor according to a plan given in a drawing. The rocks Johanson chose had a greenish, dry moss covering them; what normally might look very “natural” took on a kind of scuzziness in the antiseptic clean of the gallery. But irony located itself elsewhere: the drawing exposed these rocks as scaled-up virus cells, happily traveling down the bloodstream.

Jeff Perrone