A hoodie, a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans covered in chia sprouts hang from a clothesline in a brightly lit gallery. A sock, also overgrown with sprouts, lies on the gallery’s floor, as if some passing breeze had knocked it off the wire just before you walked into the room. It’s an eerie scene, suggestive of neglect or some kind of catastrophe—as though the owner of the clothes had put them out to dry and then vanished suddenly, only for nature to repossess them.
The installation is part of Bea Fremderman’s new show “Solastalgia,” which opened in Chicago at the Born Nude gallery on an unseasonably balmy day in late January. Exploring the complex interplay between humanity, nature, and apocalypse, the show takes its title from a neologism coined by the environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht. A portmanteau of “solace” and “nostalgia,” solastalgia is, according to Naomi Klein, “the particular form of psychological distress that sets in when the homelands that we love and from which we take comfort are radically altered by extraction and industrialization, rendering them alienating and unfamiliar.”
In Fremderman’s words, solastalgia designates “the homesickness you feel when you are still at home.” The exhibit forecasts what it might be like to live in a world that has spun completely out of control, a world where ecological disaster has become the new normal.
Through human artifice, we have managed to alter the conditions of the world that gave rise to our species—Homo sapiens, or “wise man.” The sheer volume of raw materials daily consumed in industrial manufacture means that our livelihood is dependent upon many places and people we will never see. Indeed, we seem to take the whole cycle for granted until something goes awry. It is in these moments of crisis that we’re able to most clearly see the mechanisms at work just under the surface.
The process of global warming muddies one of the central distinctions of recorded history, the boundary between the natural and the artificial, and Fremderman’s show fully exploits the ambiguity of this organic/inorganic divide. Although we know the clothes hanging from the line are spun from cotton, the fibers are transformed into something more akin to synthetic fabrics like nylon or polyester than to the plant from which they were harvested. To think in phenomenological terms, the difference between the organic and the inorganic isn’t entirely reducible to whether something was once alive; to be inorganic means in some sense to yield to human desire and to be organic means to frustrate it. While many households are chockfull of tools and vessels that can remain unchanged for years, walking outside shows us the weeds and trees that must be constantly uprooted or trimmed if they’re aren’t to overtake us. There is even the organicism of our own bodies, which we must feed and attend to daily whether we want to or not. By juxtaposing the obviously organic sprouts with the less obviously organic cotton, Fremderman reminds us that they are both rooted in nature.