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 Swan Vision Gallery presents:

Finding Equilibrium in the Driftless:

New work by David Wyrick

September 29 – November 3, 2018

The dramatic topography of the Driftless area, untouched by glaciers in western Wisconsin, is distinguished by high and low land, valleys and coulees, carved over 20,000 years ago, by glacial melt from regions, far and beyond. This variable terrain holds the state’s oldest watershed and has set the parameters of human activity on its surface for millennia. The many steep slopes of the Driftless have ensured that vast sections of land remain untouched by agriculture, industry and human settlement.  It remains an ancient, magical and beautiful place.

It is quite fitting that David Wyrick—a 21st century sculptural builder, stone carver, land explorer and installation artist—lives amid the Driftless, fully aware of and inspired by the geomorphic history of the region. His own morphology was grounded, back in the day, when children played with sticks and stones and roamed freely out-of-doors. Thusly and importantly, the artist’s relationship with nature (and the material world) was crystalized in real space and time. The fossils, stones and arrowheads of Wyrick’s childhood collections are some of the earliest (and oldest) evidence of his engagement with the planet and the first clues as to how his creative practice would arc over time.

When Wyrick left Milwaukee, Wisconsin to pursue undergraduate work, at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, he chose to study both conservation and art. While he ultimately chose a fine art major, Wyrick’s early study of the natural sciences set the stage for his interdisciplinary awareness. Today Wyrick’s continuing study of ecology and geology permeates his consciousness; informing both his artistic discourse and methodology.

Wyrick routinely travels the Driftless—sourcing site images as well as raw materials to produce his art.  Throughout his practice Wyrick considers human impact on the land, finding equilibrium within the interconnected aesthetic of the landscape.  As a shepherd of material forms Wyrick is more concerned with process than outcome, working with time, appreciating the aesthetic of deterioration and the fact his arrangements are fleeting, at best.

In this, Wyrick is partially indebted to the brilliant post-minimalist Robert Smithson (1938-1973) who applied the concept of entropy (as defined by thermodynamics) to art and to critique civilization; drawing correlations between things like open-pit mines and shopping malls. Smithson saw the world as a closed system breaking down or dispersing over time.

Yet, physics also asserts that energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed.  Thusly, when we observe deterioration of an object or system, we are simply observing the displacement of the energies location. Still, it can be troubling to humans when things, that seem solid, disappear. But this might go more to the dilemma of attachment or wanting time to stand still. Or the refusal to see that material choices have material consequences.

But, Wyrick takes all of this in stride. While his attention is primarily fixed on the material evidence rising out of the relationship between nature and human endeavor, he does not shrink from the decline that dogs every material entity. He knows that the biosphere is continually renewing itself and is clear-eyed about the epic entropic threats still lingering from yester-year’s yet-to-be-de-activated, closed and worn-out systems.

Still, Wyrick maintains extraordinary faith in the material world. “The universe just exists”, he says. He believes that everything here evolved from something else and will continue to evolve as conditions of Earth call for it to be so. On the problem of humans, Wyrick refrains from judgement. He’s not placing bets on the future but prefers to consider it all within the context of geologic time. Picture a blanket of ice one mile high. An ice age has a strange way of putting twitter feed into perspective.

For his exhibition “Finding Equilibrium in the Driftless” Wyrick presents three distinct but related bodies of work: faceted granite and basalt sculptures, that appear to be naturally formed; tree and cube constructions that speak, in part, to the human colonization and misapprehension of nature; and a photo-documentary project cataloguing the earthen dams in the Driftless region of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.  For the artist “Finding Equilibrium in the Driftless” exists as temporary evidence illuminating the human/Earth interface.

In his new series of “Mineral Form Studies” Wyrick presents a group of stone sculptures shaped to imply a mineral logic and roughly sized so they can be lugged about. As markers of geologic time these works carry a story so old it is beyond human comprehension. Yet, their implication of permanence is a complete illusion. (If it fits in a gallery or, better still, in your hand, the rock is on the tail end of being a rock). But still, the macro is always in the micro and the desire to be in proximity to stone is held in every (even unconscious) step taken on Earth. Many humans still retain an ancient affinity for stones—the desire to collect them much older than civilization, as we know it. It might be said that carving stone is a radical action in a world where millions of humans are more invested in glowing bits of non-material data. Wyrick’s stone sculptures are beautiful counter-sinks to the free-floating trends of the 21st century.

In Wyrick’s eerie, even cautionary, “Arboreal Cubes” the artist switches out his media, fixing clusters of wooden cubes on tree branches that have unwittingly agreed to serve as stations for their colony. All five sculptures presented in the exhibition rely on the beauty of branches and make a general reference to a geometric aesthetic applied to or learned from nature. Here, the modular replication of these 3-D squares invokes biomorphic gathering (barnacles, crystals, bacteria) or contemporary phenomena, such as, hive mind or cloning.

At their most haunting, the “Arboreal Cubes” seem to crystalize general afflictions such as collective decisions that sever source energy or random, unconscious attacks which, slowly and surely, kill the host. At their quirkiest, they read like impossible biomorphic space stations or a reminder that humans are, in fact, the children of plants, clinging to and seeking nourishment from nature.  

The largest work in Wyrick’s “Arboreal Cubes”—a battered 14-foot cherry branch (which crashed down outside the artist’s studio door)—lies prostrate on the gallery floor still maintaining a semblance of order by insisting that we watch our step and direct our attention to the ground before we circumambulate her form.   

For his Earthen Dam Survey, a work in progress since 2014, Wyrick puts a lens on the land itself; presenting more than a hundred photographs of earthen dams sculpted by farmers to slow or re-direct water flow. Installed on the wall in a running grid (three photos high by sixty photos wide) and presented in book form on a lectern, designed and fabricated by the artist; these photographs present a methodical, river-like continuum of the human/land interface. Considered collectively these works also testify to an eye that can discern and frame the profound aesthetic of the land itself. For Wyrick these images evidence pragmatic and physical connectivity which has stabilized the topography, reduced agricultural run-off and protected rivers and streams of the Driftless.

In a curious way the images found in the Earthen Dam Survey epitomize David Wyrick’s energetic propensity for combining and connecting physical things—for finding equilibrium. It is significant that equilibrium also resides within the artist himself—through his profound reconciliation of what is with what isn’t. Wyrick sees and engages the material world, knowing full well that it soon shall pass. And this, married with the rest of his practice, makes him an artist well worth reckoning with.  

 ——Cynde Randall, September 2018, Maiden Rock, Wisconsin

 This essay accompanies Swan Vision Gallery’s fourth exhibition of contemporary art: “Finding Equilibrium in the Driftless: New Work by David Wyrick” on view Friday through Sunday, noon-5:00 from September 30 - November 3, 2018.  Swan Vision presents focused exhibitions of contemporary art, curated by Cynde Randall, to reveal the living artists’ take on transformative practice, interbeing and alignment with the planet Earth. The gallery is made possible by a collaboration with Santosha Center in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin. For more information visit www.swanvision.net .

About the artist: David Wyrick studied conservation and art at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He is best known for discrete sculptures carved or fabricated from stone or wood and site-specific (land-based) installations. Wyrick exhibits his work both regionally and nationally and collaborates as a fabricator with the Colorado-based interdisciplinary collective, M12, which undertakes collaborative projects in rural communities (both nationally and internationally) to explore the aesthetics of rural cultures and landscapes. Wyrick lives and works in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin—a tiny village (pop. 119) situated between the bluffs and the shores of Lake Pepin in the Driftless region.