In the recent film adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, the first novel of his Southern Reach Trilogy, an all-woman team of scientists and doctors have been sent to explore and report on Area X, an electromagnetic field that has appeared out of nowhere, is steadily growing, and whoever has entered previously has not returned. Upon stumbling across a number of human-shaped plant formations during their expedition, it is suggested that perhaps the field (called the Shimmer) is in fact acting as a prism, and both shattering and recombining the DNA of all living things within it’s radius. The growths they witness before them are not made by humans, but are in fact made (partially) of humans.
In three new paintings by Judith Berry, Garden Portrait, Alone with My Dreams, and Lucky Ticket, the painted elements that dot and repeat across her landscape pieces, have taken the shape of heads. However, unlike the 16th Century Mannerist portraits of Arcimboldo, where fruit and vegetables are combined to create the facial features, Berry’s “portraits” feel like they have grown this way, to impersonate, or perhaps have even taken over the DNA, of humans.
The Lives We’re Making brings Berry’s newest production of paintings to Art Mur, and her strange, pastoral landscapes feel even more menacing than those previous. Possibly an accusation, the title of the show points the finger at us, directing our attention to our surroundings and our lives. Like plasticine worms, strips of land and colourful cables run across the surface of a place that feels familiar and populated, yet barren and mysterious at the same time. Berry’s sci-fi, surreal landscapes, may be more pertinent than ever, as we are currently living in a time where technology has taken us so far, and so quickly, that many are questioning whether or not we are actually living in a computer simulation, one with many possible outcomes and alternative timelines.
With the exception of the painting Weevil Triptych, Berry’s paintings are often, if not always, void of living creatures. The title of the exhibition implies these places and objects have been manufactured, but without any further indication of life-forms, one is left to wonder who, or possibly what, has constructed such an ordered assemblage of repeating buildings and trees. One also is left to question where in time these paintings are based. Are we seeing the future in these paintings, or a very recent apocalyptic past?
In Things We Ought Not to Have Done, a painting made up of a mass of coloured cables, broken tubes, and dead potted trees, Berry has left us a warning, or quite possibly a visual message that we have come too far in our creation and destruction. We are barely “present” anymore, spending most of our time scrolling and swiping away most things that are put in front of us. We have computers and apps to take care of the simplest of tasks. We prefer to text rather than speak to each other. We shop online, order our food online, and have slowly paired down our lives by keeping all of our music, books, and images on pocket sized devices. Do we even know who we are anymore? Are we even here?