With The Den, Carnegie Mellon grads Peter Burr and Ross Christy have turned in a meditation on the shrinking wilderness and its displaced inhabitants, exiled from their natural habitats. As such, "the den" is portrayed as a site of sanctuary and safety, where animals burrow to escape from encroaching civilization. And both concern through a kitschy vocabulary of New Age spirituality and thrift-store art.
The installation portion of the show features six-foot-high birch stumps that sprout out of the gallery floor. Above them, five hand-made dreamcatchers twist on electric-colored threads that hang from the ceiling. An enormous, rainbow-scaled snake twists along two walls and a collection of feathers is pinned to one another like a faux specimen study. It's a tongue-in-cheek way of representing the futility of humanity's attempts to commune with nature. Instead of making any genuine connection to nature, Burr and Christy's work implies that we can only commodify it—as if its spirit can be collected like feathers or ensnared in a dangling dreamcatcher.
In their individual works, both Burr and Christy continue to explore these themes. In the muted hues of Christy's drawings in gouache, ink, and colored pencil, he delivers deeply cynical works, dolled up like utterly benign Hallmark posters. In "How the West Was Won," we see a pair of cowboy boots not so subtly squashing a pair of moccasins, as a rope border encircles the scene like a lasso. In "We Are Not Strangers," two parrots perch above a colt, as a banner reading "We are in this together" ripples beneath them. Burr's work—particularly his series of collages mounted on wood panels—is less direct by comparison. Burr cannibalizes disparate imagery by cutting out pictures from magazines and reassembling them in disorienting arrangements. As maize is transformed into corndogs, and kittens and dachshunds weep, Burr's playful collages reinforce the show's portrayal of nature as defiled and corrupted. But no matter how grimly The Den envisions nature's fate, it still makes for one beautiful mess.