EPISODE: "Ecology"

This episode delves into the work of four artists who explore the relationship of nature and culture, including the submission of wilderness to civilization, the foundations of scientific knowledge, the impact of technology on biology, and our relationship to the earth forged by working the land. “Ecology” is shot on location in New York, New York; Los Angeles, California; Chicago, Illinois; Rochester, Minnesota; Seattle, Washington; Astoria, Oregon; Cape Disappointment,
Washington; King County, Washington; Beach Lake, PA; and Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Ursula von Rydingsvard uses sculpture, in part, as a means to express the memories of her childhood. “I grew up…in the post-World War II refugee camps for Polish people in Germany…We stayed in wooden barracks…raw wooden floors, raw wooden walls and raw wooden ceilings… so somewhere in my blood I’m dipping into that source,” she says. Von Rydingsvard’s studio is filled with massive cedar sculptures, which she painstakingly constructs layer by layer. The end result is a complex and unpredictable surface for viewers to explore and experience. “My whole cedar studio is loaded with pieces that are unfinished and I need all of those things in my environment to feed me, to give me always options.”

Born in Madrid to a Spanish father and a Colombian mother whose work lives were primarily in Chicago, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s interest in architecture, politics, and science underscores much of his work. The documentary follows Manglano-Ovalle to an exhibition of his work in New York; his “Random Sky” (2006) façade in Chicago, for which computers process weather data at the installation site to generate a visual representation of climate conditions; and “La Tormenta/The Storm” (2007), a large-scale sculpture of two thunderstorm clouds, installed at the Citizenship and Immigration Services building in Chicago, which serves as a metaphor for the U.S. immigration process.

While living in Colorado Springs, Robert Adams began to capture black and white photographs of a burgeoning suburban strip–highways and tract houses that marred a dramatic landscape–a development that he loathed. Yet when Adams examined the images in his darkroom, he recognized for the first time the beauty within these pictures. “The final strength in really great photographs is that they suggest more than just what they show literally,” says Adams. Working closely with his wife, Adams created “Turning Back” (1999-2003), which illustrates deforestation in the West, a practice that Adams describes as “not just a matter of exhaustion of resources. I do think there is involved an exhaustion of spirit.”

Mark Dion is a collector and a shopper. “I am constantly out there buying things, going to flea markets and yard sales and junk stores, and I like to surround myself with things that are inspirational.” Intrigued by natural history and museum procedures, Dion’s collections become part of his installations and public projects that address our ideas and assumptions about nature. “I’m not one of these artists who is spending a lot of time imagining a better ecological future. I’m more the kind of artist who is holding up a mirror to the present.” Viewers follow Dion on a journey during which he brings a “nurse log”—a fallen Hemlock tree which is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna—into the heart of Seattle.