Text by Fiammetta Cesana

Man and Nature_MAAB Gallery_Milan_Politiche della Natura_exhibition_Peter Bartoš, Under castle settlement, 2015 
Peter Bartoš, Under castle settlement, 2015 

A period like the one we have spent and of which we are still facing the gravity of the economic, social and environmental legacies, has led us to make many observations about our private and collective lifestyle. Re-evaluating gestures and routines we used to take for granted, from the importance of the digital world to staying together, to the warmth of a hug or of a sunny walk, to a class discussion or an idea raised in an unexpected meeting in the office, from a romantic dinner in a restaurant to a shopping treatment or at the hairdresser, to the unifying emotional blast unleashed during a live concert… we’ve also come to reflect on the overproduction, and the consequent overabundance of goods and comforts, surrounding us and which we realized that, after all, we don’t really need it. But the greatest question and revelation came to us from what we most believed was always at our disposal, what for centuries of humankind we haven’t respected by exploiting it as much as we could, mistakenly considering it as our own property: Nature.

Between the daily mourn at reading the Covid-19 war bulletins, the confusion of information, the inevitable increase in fear and paranoia in the face of a global health catastrophe, the other side of the coin was equally striking. The images came from all over the world: the magically clean air in India that have made the Himalayan chain visible from hundreds of kilometers, dolphins freely swimming through the Venetian canals, deers which walked down the streets in Japan, wild boars that replacing of the crowd of tourists occupied the ramblas of Barcelona… the spectacle was incredible, especially because it has been staged out of our control and supervision. Mother Nature has finally re-awakened, making us understand that we are not the ones who decide her place in the world and as much as we tried to bend her to our will, she has its own life and will never give up on it.

Moved and stunned by the essential power of nature, even the operators of fashion and art industry have decided to pay it tribute. Today that we are forced to face a sudden reversal of priorities and our own values, the protection of the planet must be at the first place, and to do so we must reconsider the beauty and the resources it can give us, as well as the strength of its sexual dimension. Through new and old artifacts, maisons and galleries present their personal rediscovery of core subject tackled by the philosophy and literature of all time: the relationship between Man and Nature. The sacredness of this duo is therefore re-proposed to us through different artistic creations, including painting, biodiversity’s archives, nudes portraiture and new design collections. So we see Burberry with an upcoming immersive fashion show surrounded by British landscapes, Gucci with a truly off the grid campaign made of regenerated materials and new perspectives on the urban and environmental future, The Milanese MAAB Gallery which explores the Politics of Nature in-between study of ecosystems, refined paintings and Wunderkammer, and the center for contemporary art Luigi Pecci in Prato that celebrates the brilliant and tormented photographer Red Hang and his highly discussed production.

Man and Nature_centro di arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci_Nudi_exhibition_Ren Hang, Untitled, 2012, Courtesy OF Stieglitz 19 and Ren Hang Estate
Ren Hang, Untitled, 2012, Courtesy OF Stieglitz 19 and Ren Hang Estate

“As humans, we have always had a deep affinity to nature. We have had to respect and rely upon its power for our very existence, whilst marvelling and revelling in its extraordinary beauty. Especially recently, we have all yearned to reconnect again and for this show, I wanted to celebrate these feelings by bringing our community together in a creative experience that takes place within the beautiful, natural landscape of Britain.” With these words Riccardo Tisci, creative director of the UK heritage brand Burberry for two years, announces the next house’s show for the Spring-Summer 2021 collection. The event, in the enhancement of the gifts given by nature, in particular of the wonders, often forgotten, of the wide and varied English outdoors, it will also mark, as for the two his previous fashion shows, a significant lowering of consumption, being certified carbon neutral, although offering maximum, and Covid-restrictions-aligned accessibility to the public through the online streaming. And any remaining emissions will be offset by the programs of Burberry’s Regeneration Fund, which promotes environmental plans at global level, such as the Australian reforesting.

Man and Nature_Burberry_immersive show experience_Spring Summer collection_fashion show_Riccardo Tisci
Man and Nature_Burberry_immersive show experience_Spring Summer collection_fashion show_Riccardo Tisci

Even in the world of Quixotic, eclectic style, as defined by its own creative director Alessandro Michele, plans for the future see a regenerated approach to fashion that has as its objective the environmental defense and, where emissions are still inevitable, like its English colleague, also Gucci is planning offsetting initiatives, in support of the Redd+ organization for biodiversity. After having openly expressed himself against the current excessive rhythms of fashion system during the lockdown period, Michele now presents us the new campaign “Gucci Off The Grid” – produced before this fateful March with the first collection from the brand’s circular line – whose protagonist is nature, visually and materially. The garments in fact, immortalized by the photographer and director Harmony Korine, are made of 100% sustainable fabrics, recycled and organic, including a regenerated nylon made from nylon offcuts and pre- and post-consumer waste. Human beings crave a connection with the outside world and are rightly fascinated by the power and majesty of nature, and highly value the joy there is in being able to live in a natural environment. The desire to explore this way of life, and the natural world in general, is something we can consider an instinctive human desire”. To represent this inherent need for blending with nature, the Italian maison has decided to tell about a very particular journey: that of new urban dwellers – including the legendary actress and activist Jane Fonda (here our article on the fashion influences of her marvelous character in the Netflix series “Grace&Frankie”), the Grammy Award-winning rapper Lil Nas X, environmentalist David de Rothschild – who find refuge on wooden treehouses within a glass modern metropolis. The quarantine period, actually, seems to have enticed many to desire the country life, for example in France there has been recorded a surge in real estate searches in rural areas. So Gucci’s treehouses become a metaphor for a new unconventional style, for the escape from the chaos and mistakes of hyper-productive cities, without denying their potential for innovation progress and cultural exchange but promoting a different, regenerated perspective towards a future (of fashion and all the rest) more conscious and respectful. The “Off Grid” shooting is already covering up the brand’s Artwalls around the world, and has presented a new quiz game on the dedicated app where by correctly answering the question about materials used for the collection you can create your own digital treehouse and receive an exclusive wallpaper.

Moving to the artistic soil in Milan, the MAAB Gallery guides us on a scientific-anthropological pathway, curated by Massimiliano Scuderi, where the creations of five international artists dialogue with each other in an attempt to reconcile man and nature. The title of the exhibition, “Politiche della Natura” takes up that of Bruno Latour’s book, in which the author explores precisely those representations and values, which led, in a constant synthesis between opposing forces, to the formation of human society and culture, where reason and emotion fit together in the relationship between individuals and the nature hosting them. Peter Bartoš, artist-scientist who for years has been involved in the selection and generation of pigeons and the study of cultivated land, as well as exponent of the new Slovak avant-garde and landscape designer of the Bratislava zoo, immerses us in an eloquent painting, which seems to draw a holistic itinerary towards the reconstruction of the bond with the natural environment. Mark Dion’s Wunderkammer collections capture us with allegories and semantic epiphanies, enhancing a new ecosystem born from the fusion of natural and cultural components. Aiming to create a habitable and healthy environment where man and nature can coexist in harmony, Peter Fend, on the other hand, is inspired by the books on architecture by Leon Battista Alberti and by the masters of contemporary art, like Duchamp. A still different and surprising approach is that of Piero Gilardi who, starting from his artistic experiences at the end of the 1960s between Arte Povera and Land Art, investigates the raising of equatorial typhoons as a metaphor-means of communication of his art, a reflection of an announced political action. What better / worse typhoon than a pandemic to trigger a artistic immensities and biodiversities? And finally, Alexis Rockman, that with his refined painting underlines the importance of the survival instinct, leads us again to grasp a very current perspective in light of the adaptability skills that each of us had to put in place in the post-Covid world.

“Politiche della Natura”
MAAB Gallery
Till 18 September 2020

Man and Nature_MAAB Gallery_Milan_Politiche della Natura_exhibition_Mark Dion, Alligator Mississippiensis, 2015, Photo Mattia Mognetti
Mark Dion, Alligator Mississippiensis, 2015, Photo Mattia Mognetti

The relationship between man and nature in history has been a harbinger not only of analysis on the ancestral link with the earth, on respect for the diversity of each ecosystem and on the future of urban and technological society, but also of profound reflections of our own sexuality. The center for contemporary art Luigi Pecci has chosen to dedicated a solo exhibition, for the first time in Italy, called “Nudi” to the Chinese artist who has made sexual sphere merged with the natural world the zeitgeist of his international famous photographs. Tormented soul, controversial narrator, constantly raising criticism and bewilderment, Ren Hang was certainly among the most iconic contemporary talents. The photographer and poet, who tragically passed away three years ago committing suicide, has carried out in-depth research with his works on the body, identity, and their bond with the natural context. For him, nudity is nothing but minimalist expression, the “most fascinating and natural” thing. But as with every element in nature, whose life is made up of dialectical syntheses between opposite processes, the sexuality represented by the artist also reveals a mixture of contrasts. The nude bodies immortalized by Hang is vivid, enhanced by the aseptic backgrounds of his shots, convey a set of contrasting feelings, between security towards one’s own erotic dimension and emotional suspicion, between inner and outer well-being and unhealthy thoughts, between balance and morbidity. “I don’t look at my works as taboos at all, because I don’t think so much about the cultural or political context. I don’t intentionally push myself beyond the limits, I only do what I do.” “The politics of my images has nothing to do with China. It is Chinese politics that interferes with my art.” Hang said in 2015 detaching himself from an art aimed at social-political denunciation. Today the story of his seductive and subversive photographs is entrusted to the curator Cristiana Perella who, together with the museum in Prato, has launched a digital initiative to make Hang’s works even more popular. In fact, the Instagram filter “Peacock” was created by taking one of his most loved and known photographs.

“Nudi”, Ren Hang
Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci
Prato, Tuscany
Till 23 August 2020

“The gift is life
A precious gift
although often I ask myself
if it was given to the wrong man”.

Today that the questions on how we will be able to cope with pandemics and environmental devastation are of fundamental importance for the future of our species, Ren Hang’s words in verse echo in the biggest question of all: what can we do to deserve this wonderful nature again?

Man and Nature_centro di arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci_Nudi_exhibition_Ren Hang, Peacock, 2016, Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate
Ren Hang, Peacock, 2016, Courtesy Stieglitz19 and Ren Hang Estate