Mary Claire Becker is a printmaker whose work rearranges and re-contextualizes human-made depictions of Nature. She was born in Raleigh, North Carolina and in 2012 received her BFA from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. In 2019, she recieved her MA and MFA from the University of Iowa and her Certificate of Book Arts from the UI Center for the Book. She has taught Printmaking and Drawing at the University of Iowa, served on the BFA faculty committee at Central Michigan University, and acted as studio assistant for multiple classes at Penland School of Craft in North Carolina.
Mary Claire is interested in interdisciplinary applications of printmaking, and in 2017 she created artwork inspired by ecology fieldwork as an Iowa Lakeside Laboratory Artist in Residence. She has shown nationally at many galleries including Blue Spiral 1 in Asheville, NC, Manifest Gallery in Cinncinnati, OH, and the Center for Book Arts in New York City. Her work was recognized with a Curator’s Choice Award and Gamblin Material Purchase Award in Mid-America Print Council’s 2018 Members Juried Exhibition. She recently completed the 2019 Stephen L. Barstow Artist-In-Residence at Central Michigan University, and upcoming events for 2020 include residencies at Jentel Arts in Banner, WY and Kimmel Harding Nelson Center in Nebraska City, NE.
My print-based installations rearrange and re-contextualize human-made depictions of Nature. These works unmask the facsimile, the artificial, the dream-image of Nature that exists as Other, particularly within American culture. Nature as a concept is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “opposed to humans or human creations,” and this definition of Nature-as-a-world-apart is implicit in much of the Western canon of art and media. The stories we tell about Nature augment our perception of the world around us. In the context of the Anthropocene, I feel an uneasiness regarding depictions of Nature within capitalist society due to the growing realization that our worldviews regarding the biosphere have not served us well.
Loud floral wallpaper patterns, porcelain figurines and souvenirs, and printed laser-cut bouquets snake across the walls of the gallery space. Botanical designs rooted in the domestic are exaggerated to the point of parody, clamoring with a cacophony of Nature that verges on oversaturated kitsch. The inspiration for these works includes William Morris wallpaper, plastic houseplants, National Geographic images as desktop screensavers, the Hudson River School, Astroturf, silk flowers, snow globes, and Lisa Frank. Dripping with saccharine superficiality, kitsch imagery echoes pre-existing tropes without apology. If Nature relies on a false duality, any successful attempt to present a “true” depiction of our environment would need to include every kind of matter, from snails to sidewalks to HDTVs, and would dissolve its own meaning in attempting to describe all of reality. Thus, the only way I am confident in my ability to discuss Nature without hypocrisy is through romantic irony: an awareness that my depictions of Nature are unconvincing. By parodying what is already embedded in American culture, I emphasize its artificiality.
My focus is Romantic-era Nature, a concept that remains strong in contemporary American culture, suffused with desire and nostalgia: the idealized and idyllic pristine wilderness or the lush and verdant forest. From Victorian cabinets of curiosity to contemporary Instagram photos of wilderness vacations, the desire to preserve fleeting experiences of wild beauty is a common impulse in industrial societies. With cultural connotations such as authenticity, purity, and majesty, the ‘untouched wilderness’ of our collective consciousness provides respite from the rigidity of the built environment. A connection to nature offsets the stresses of the modern workplace, and in the case of nature-lovers and environmentalists, it mediates our guilt over participating in a society that uses natural resources unsustainably. However, by fetishizing the landscape, we exclude ourselves from any definition of nature and it becomes more difficult to design human systems that function effectively within our environment. My work encourages viewers to pay attention to our conflicting definitions of Nature. This investigation becomes all the more pressing with the knowledge that industrial activity has now irrevocably altered our environment, and “Nature” as we know it is changing. Representations of Nature become memorials to former systems.