Taiko Chandler’s Denver Botanic Gardens exhibition provides a powerful framework for how to think differently about the world around us.
Taiko Chandler: The Indelible Garden
December 11, 2021–April 3, 2022
Denver Botanic Gardens
“Each work… is born of the natural world’s influence on memory,” reads the introductory wall text to Denver-based artist Taiko Chandler’s exhibition The Indelible Garden, currently on display at the Denver Botanic Gardens in their newly-constructed Freyer Newman Center. In a companion video streaming on the Botanic Gardens’ website, Chandler—represented locally by Space Gallery—mentions that her work responds to her “surroundings” and their connection to her identity or, in her words, “who I am.”
Seeking inspiration from the Denver Botanic Gardens when conceptualizing her show, the artist chose her “color[s] from nature… from a tree or even a shadow”; and those elements of the natural world—whether “flowers or trees or plants” at the Gardens—produced an emotional connection for her. Moreover, the “organic lines” found in her artwork emulate those found in the botanical world.
Even a cursory glance at the body of work Chandler created for this show seems to confirm these sentiments. Her On and On series—the framed, two-dimensional monoprints that adorn most of the gallery’s perimeter wall space—resemble floral arrangements layered atop one another. The interwoven curvatures evince the depth and chaos of our natural world, while vibrant colors and a meticulous printing process gesture toward both the aesthetic beauty of nature and the structured compositions of a florist.
Chandler’s installation pieces function to similar effect. From a distance, the undulating blues of Blue Surge that extend across the entirety of the gallery’s back wall call to mind the current of a river or stream.
Similarly, the internally lit white mass of Contested Void hanging from the ceiling in front of a centrally-positioned wall mimics the shape and color of a cumulus cloud at sunset. And on closer inspection, the cuts Chandler made for the individual elements of both Blue Surge and the gray-scale segments of Contested Void, mimic the outlines of petals—once again indicating an indebtedness to the floral.
If an analysis of The Indelible Garden ended here, the show would prove to be a skillful and attractive collection of works that produced beautiful objects rooted in a mimetic exploration of the natural world. Such a critique, though, would do little more than echo Denver Botanic Gardens’ mission of “connecting people with plants” and fail to address the complexities of our contemporary moment.
This, of course, is not the case. Chandler’s artwork offers viewers willing to explore the material realities of her exhibition a much more salient and compelling framework through which to think about the world around us.
The placards for both Blue Surge and Contested Void inform gallery visitors that the artist fabricated these installations from materials such as Tyvek and Organza. The former of these materials—technically written Tyvek®—is a proprietary, synthetic product manufactured by DuPont that’s made of polyethylene fibers. Organza, although traditionally woven from silk, is primarily created from synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon—the former synthesized from polyethylene terephthalate, and the latter a thermoplastic made from petroleum.
The burning of petroleum, for its part, contributes to about one-quarter of the annual global greenhouse gas emissions. While many polymers, such as polyethylene (found in both Tyvek® and Organza), can be recycled, they are not biodegradable; and, likewise, they are manufactured from petroleum or natural gas. Moreover, when exposed to ambient solar radiation, plastics emit both methane and ethylene—two, prominent greenhouse gases. This, of course, says nothing about DuPont’s storied history of environmental devastation, most famously documented in the 2019 film Dark Waters.
And this, to my mind, is why The Indelible Garden happens to be such a powerful exhibition. The exhibition wall text and the representational quality of the artworks promote an indebtedness to and an exaltation of the natural world. But the placards dispel any notion that eco-centric endeavors or production (artistic or otherwise) absolves one of complicity in ecological devastation. What is meant to highlight nature or purport environmentally-friendly positions still harbors environmentally deleterious effects within its material history.
We experience this contradictory dynamic time and again in contemporary culture. Electric vehicles, for instance, claim to reduce carbon emissions, but the harvesting of lithium for their batteries produces environmentally egregious effects. Similarly, the electricity those EV vehicles run on? It’s generated beforehand by burning fossil fuels. Is the net result of choosing an electric vehicle rather than one with a combustion engine, on the whole, “cleaner”? Perhaps. But it certainly isn’t “green.”
The aesthetic façade of the artworks in The Indelible Garden, then, serves as a more poignant look into the deceptive machinations of late late capitalism’s marketing of “green” economies. The pieces in the show entice us by resonating with the world of natural beauty; but their materials imbricate the artist and, thus, all artists and artistic production in our environmental demise. By naming her materials, Chandler owns her complicity in our climate crisis.
Indeed, this garden is indelible because it will never leave us; its materials and their effects will linger, long after the artist, and the rest of us, have ceased to exist.
Taiko Chandler: The Indelible Garden is scheduled to remain on display through April 3, 2022 at Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York Street, Denver.