"Fantastic Habitat" Challenges the Perception of Nature

All of the photographs in "Fantastic Habitat," Susi Brister's new exhibition at Lawndale Art Center, are shot in a forest, swamp or sand setting. Had these pictures been shot by themselves, the final product would have been exceptionally dull, a typical landscape shot to be framed and hung in a local bed-and-breakfast. Luckily, the fabulous texture and textile-covered figures placed into each photo charge a volt of life into the scene.

"Fantastic Habitat" is a series of 11 photographs that begin before the camera points and shoots. Before hanging them in Lawndale's Cecily E. Horton gallery, Brister spent time gluing together wildly patterned fabric and textile materials, which she then draped over unknown objects in natural settings.

Some of the fabrics and textiles look tribal, and thus more aligned with the second half of the exhibition title, such as "Black Trees" (2013), while others, such as "Crystal-Studded Shag in Dunes" (2012), a cylindrical object covered in funky white fur, and "Spangles, Limestone" (2013), a tiny cylinder cloaked in red, silver and black sparkles, look more fantastical, doing service to the first half exhibition title.

Is Brister tampering with nature? A subtle manipulation is more like it. By taking these artificial, man-made creations and dropping them into organic settings, Brister creates a tug-of-war between the natural and the unnatural, challenging conventional notions of what is beautiful: the natural or the artificial? Or both?

Or maybe she just wants to spice up a mundane scene of trees, rocks and sand dunes with pretty objects.

Speaking of pretty objects, what's underneath all those textures and textiles anyway? Asking that question is moot. Whether the covered objects are animate or inanimate is a matter of conjecture, and the anonymity is what makes these pictures so compelling. But don't worry. It's not the boogeyman hiding under those pieces of fabric, except in "613 Silky Straight in Swamp" (2013), which is certainly Bigfoot bent over. He's alive!

"Fantastic Habitat" will be on view through September 28. Visit the Lawndale Art Center website for more information.

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