5/4/2016 – The Nature of Nature with Morgan Barrie
Artist: Morgan Barrie
Location: Le Petit Zinc
MB – Coffee (black), crepe fromage de chevre et epinards
SRS – Coffee (black), le petit dejuner
I’ll admit, I am not very good at understanding what kind of impression I make on people. Sometimes I’m like, “I’m passionate!” and people are like, “You seem angry.” Sometimes I’m like, “I’m a monster!” and people are like, “No, you are pretty nice.” But I think, generally speaking, I make an effort to be upbeat, and that’s actually a pretty big effort because in reality, I am sort of a dark person. Which is a long way of saying, it was really a pleasure to meet photographer and mediated imagery artist Morgan Barrie for breakfast this week, where we were immediately able to descend into the darkness surrounding the perceived schism between humanity and nature. Things got pretty dark.
Morgan does not practice a particularly documental type of photography, and although her background includes analog photo processing, her current practice is entirely digital. Really, she is a collage artist, who shoots her own starter footage. I can absolutely relate to this evolving relationship with photography; for year in New York, documental-type photo blogging was a meaningful practice for me, and now it is much more like a process by which I have amassed my own stock image warehouse, that I can use to illustrate things. Although, in talking to Morgan, I realized that even then, photography wasn’t the beginning and end for me, because I was using flickr.com to distribute and contextualize images. There was always the digital frame.
Morgan is very experimental, while maintaining strong control of her elements. She says she uses herself as her subject in this newest nature series, because she’s attempting a fairly difficult process, and she wants to refine that before she puts a model through it (certainly more considerate than a lot of photographers I know, Morgan). Her attention to detail makes for dense images; looking at them, they seem much more like archaic paintings, where the inclusion of various objects – fruit, animals, insects – were ultimately a set of coded symbols, making allusions about life, nature, and society.
It is hard to get into a discussion of nature without getting a little bleak. Human society has worked very hard to make distinctions between ourselves and our animal nature…and yet, we are undeniably driven by it. Morgan would argue that the desire to build society in the first place is actually an expression of our animal nature – as indeed, animals of many different types have organized societies – and that’s a fair way of looking at it. I am always struck by the notion that human sit somehow apart from nature, that our cities somehow represent more mass than the open space around them (or really, are any less a part of nature than a termite mound), that we are “killing the planet.” Morgan is based in the Ann Arbor area and I grew up in Northern California, around a lot of crystal-packing hippies, and I say to you with love, friends, we are not killing the planet. The planet is a ball of rock in space and it will be fine. We are killing ourselves. Or, more accurately, the choices we’ve made collectively for short-term gains are annoying the planet, so the planet is going to kill us. You think the planet cares whether the atmosphere is breathable? It’s really only important to things that need oxygen.
So I guess how optimistic you feel about the survival of “nature” depends on how much you can identify with nature beyond humanity, and especially beyond a few specific humans that share your immediate genetic code. Morgan and I talked for a while about genetics, which is fascinating to both of us. I’ve been thinking a lot about gene expression, and how, in our limited, human way, we always misunderstand the point. The genetic information that exists within each of us represents an unbroken chain. As Scott Hocking once said to me, “Our blood has never died.” All that you have built, in terms of your physical being, was given to you by someone that came before. All we as individuals are, really, are vehicles for genes. They ride us through time the way we ride a bus through a city. Once you’ve gotten to your stop, you immediately forget about the bus. Genes are just trying to get to the next place in time, and as soon as you pass them on, your work is pretty much done. That’s why parenting represents such an abnegation of self.
And actually, though there are people I love very much in the world, I find it hard to muster the necessary optimism to put more people on the planet, just as I find it impossible to avoid existential awareness about our inevitable demise. “The population is going to decline,” Morgan says, matter of factly, and I think, this is right. There is a human cost to our unsustainable actions, and I feel as though I will bear witness to it within my lifetime. The nice thing, the hedge against that in the face of sometimes overwhelming sadness at our fate, is being able to develop some kind of detachment from humanity as the ultimate expression of life, and from individual humans as the ultimate expression of humanity. If you can love a cockroach like you love yourself, perhaps you can take some solace in knowing that they will inherit the radioactive and smoking planet we leave behind, in our carelessness. Or, if that bothers you, perhaps you’d like to think a little harder about what sort of world you are going to leave for the children you proclaim to love so much. What sort of things you do to contribute it, besides burden it with more people.
Thank you, Morgan, for being able to handle me on one of my darker days. You are a beacon of light in an uncaring universe.