Fine Art

Artist Roscoe Wilson examines the ways we confine and manufacture nature

Captive Duck’ (plastic lawn ornament, Astroturf, wood) at Roscoe Wilson’s Front Yard Zoo: Controlling Nature on Feb. 18, 2016.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore

On the second level of College of Southern Nevada’s Cheyenne Campus is a tidy arrangement of lawn ornaments, most of them locked into place by fitted pens (like lumber body casts) or captive in cement. They sit on individual blocks of AstroTurf, a strange mirroring of yards across America.

'Captive Bird' (plastic lawn ornament, Astroturf, wood) at Roscoe Wilson's Front Yard Zoo: Controlling Nature on Feb. 18, 2016.

In one glance, Roscoe Wilson’s Front Yard Zoo: Controlling Nature is sad and funny and real and fake, impeccably controlled and almost sadistic. Admiring the witty sculptural compositions placed on the grey carpet of the corridor is unavoidable. They bring life to the drab—romanticize (like Disney) a nature carefully packaged in plastic colorful cartoony representations. But their structures insist that no rabbit turns its head, no bear moves an inch and no fawn lying with adorable folded legs gets a chance to stretch out.

It’s contemporary America’s relationship with nature presented at its most extreme and bizarre, fitting enough to serve as reminder that this is how we package the environment, emphasizing our disconnect with the world around us to the extent that we’ve fabricated our own ideas.

The sheer amount (dozens and dozens of fake animals) in Front Yard Zoo is only a micro-sliver of the market for fake nature. And constructing “ideal” environments is the thrust of Wilson’s work: “In reality we change the land that surrounds us to suit our human needs and desires,” he says in his artist statement. “Construction begins with deconstruction. We plant, prune, trim, dig, fill, clear and build our environments. We want nothing out of our control in our immediate vicinity, yet it is comforting to imagine something wild in the distance; something virgin, sublime and untouched by man.”

'Captive Rabbit' (plastic lawn ornament, Astroturf, wood) at Roscoe Wilson's Front Yard Zoo: Controlling Nature on Feb. 18, 2016.

But the concept is only part of it. Wilson’s execution is to be applauded. The art professor at Miami University in Hamilton, Ohio, who grew up in the rural Midwest, received his M.A. in painting and printmaking from Purdue University, and his M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Each discipline is represented in Front Yard Zoo. Colorfully rich paintings matched with home siding illustrate his point and converse with the sculptures, as do his prints and drawings, at first seeming to celebrate, then almost lament manufactured kitsch presented as reality. It’s aesthetically pleasing and sobering.

Front Yard Zoo: Controlling Nature Through March 19; Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. College of Southern Nevada's Artspace Gallery, 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave., 702-651-4146.

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