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‘Sweet Corruptions’ at Lynden Sculpture Garden

Emilie Clark gets to the bottom of life and death

Jun. 10, 2013
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Call it “channeling compost,” but be advised that artist Emilie Clark’s vision goes well beyond the compost-rich soil in the larger, lush plot known as Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 W. Brown Deer Road. It reaches deep into the heart of life and death.

As I write under cloudy skies threatening yet more rain, I’m wondering if her vision includes an ark or two. That said, the title of her exhibition (“Women, Nature, Science—Emilie Clark: Sweet Corruptions”) is rooted in the accomplishments of scientists Clark has studied, and if you wish to wax poetic, Walt Whitman’s poem, “This Compost,” which suggests how sweet things spring from corruption. Is it mere coincidence that Clark’s father is a medical doctor who researches endocrinology, and her mother a teacher of English?

Certainly there is a whiff of the “hip” in her background; Clark was born and raised in San Francisco, educated at Cornell University and Bard College and reviewed in swell publications like The New Yorker. We chat and the seeds of her carefully researched thoughts intrigue well beyond hip. “I grew up around the scientific,” she says, noting that her drawings and paintings, rather than being laboriously (and often misleadingly) titled, are identified with a number preceded by “EHR,” to honor a sanitary chemist, Ellen H. Richards, who studied air, water and food.

Clark’s exhibition (through Aug. 25) is a feast for the mind, a marvelous mix of drawings and paintings detailing the energy released via compost. In the dining room, up a few stairs from the main gallery, a table explodes with a year’s worth of seasonal detritus, multiple scraps from family meals, preserved and shipped here by Clark. Arranged brilliantly on a dining table of dark wood, the installation resembles a still life, bits and pieces of which are echoed in her two-dimensional work. It’s as if Hieronymus

Bosch had come to dine.

Clouds roll by. Clark strides briskly (in green and blue waterproof paper shoes) to a site due west where she’s installed a compact and clever “Research Station,” complete with microscope, compost for studying, books for reading, and an aquaponic display replete with minnows from the Lynden pond. Nearby, a community garden nurtures composted seedlings surrounded by Bambi-proof fencing.

A pair of swallows slice skyward. Lynden Sculpture Garden is Eden come to earth.


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