For Brooklyn artist Karin Weiner, the threat that humanity poses to the environment is alarmingly grave. In Clear Cut, her debut exhibition at Elizabeth Leach Gallery, she contrasts images of dense housing that climbs to impossible heights with clear-cut forest floors, as desolate as cemeteries. Though this thematic agenda might lead you to expect her work to be deadly serious, it's just the opposite. Full of light, humor, and visual twists, her work refreshingly addresses an intractable social ill without stooping to brainless sloganeering.
Interestingly, Weiner's work very simply participates in a solution to the problems she identifies. Composed of images from old magazines and books, her collages literally recycle paper products, thereby conserving the shrinking resources she depicts. Likewise, in her installation, "Clear Cut," she creates a logged patch of forest on the gallery floor using reclaimed materials. Wound layers of corrugated cardboard become stumps, while stones and stands of undergrowth are sewn from thrift store fabrics.
The viral spread of civilization may be a grim reality, but Weiner's collages are loaded with enough absurdity to nearly transcend all that doom and gloom. In "Our Fine Feathered Friends Assist with the Relocation," an assortment of birds takes flight on a plane of soft yellow, moving household items. A caned chair loops around a goose's neck; a hummingbird carries a teapot in its beak; and an eagle grips a bicycle in its talons. Notably, many of the items are conspicuously branded, from a Zenith radio to a Nikon camera, suggesting the birds have united to eradicate consumerism.
While Weiner removes these items from their original contexts to create new tableaus, there is also a discernible urge to impose order and stability. Just as dozens of species of birds are crammed into "Our Fine Feathered Friends," elsewhere countless houses—of varying scales and styles—occupy the same cramped spaces. It's as if Weiner is perpetrating some faux scientific categorization, in which images are obsessively collected and grouped for the sheer sake of their likenesses. This compulsive need to create order, even if only within the confines of her artwork, hints that altering the fate of the environment is a more daunting task than her charmingly playful work is ready to admit. JOHN MOTLEY