For LAUREN FENSTERSTOCK the act of making art is more a byproduct of her research. A self-proclaimed research-historian, Fensterstock spends hours pouring over historical texts such as the one her most current body of work is named after; Of Groves, Labyrinths, Dedals, Cabinets, Cradles, Close-walks, Galleries, Pavillions, Portico’s, Lanterns, and other Relievo’s; of topiary and Hortulan Architecture, a 1699 treatise on Italian gardens by John Eveleyn.
Whatever title you want to give her, Fensterstock is undeniably an artist. Working in the past with ruby and diamond encrusted rotten potatoes and silver dipped cherries, Fensterstock creates a visual language that forces us to both look and see differently.
In her upcoming exhibition at Walker Contemporary, Fensterstock presents an installation of large black boxes, filled with charcoal and quilled black paper. Expanding on ideas from Cicero’s writing on Italian Renaissance gardens regarding the ideas of first second and third nature, where first nature is described as that built by God, second as that built on top by humans and third as a sort of partnership between first and second. Looking at this theory historically and how it has played out for instance in the gardens of Louis the XIV, partnership hardly seems to be the correct word. The emphasis in third nature is on Man creating in his own image, of conceiving, ruling and controlling nature.
Fensterstock is completely seduced by this idea and pushes the definition even further. She doesn’t take actual natural objects or a natural landscape and alter them. She makes her own nature; flowers & grass made from black-quilled paper and charcoal in place of soil. She meticulously arranges every black flower and black blade of grass in black boxes, semi-terrarium like. Captivating for their intricacy and beauty, her environments appear to thrive. But the lack of color and absence of real living matter becomes unnerving causing the viewer to ask if these landscapes are truly thriving or symbolic of a grim future.
Drawing not only on historic texts but also on historic techniques, Fensterstock’s highly reflective black boxes are suggestive of Claude Glass, the small dark convex mirrors used by painters especially in 18th and 19th century British landscape painting in an attempt to recreate the muted, almost singular tonal effect achieved by painter Claude Lorrain a century earlier. These artists were often ridiculed for turning their backs to the very subject they wished to depict. Perhaps Fensterstock, in her desire to help us see differently, issues a warning that what we need to see may be right there in front of us.