Fern Stations

“Fern Stations I-III” is a cycle of three distinct multimedia installations which were shown as part of the Wisconsin Triennial at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Each installation consists of digitally designed and handmade tripods supporting handmade speaker horns with 3d printed horn adapters, digitally designed handmade tables, 3 distinct editions of 500 each letterpress prints, and a unique audio score delivered through the horns to a distinct fern for each installation. The “Fern Stations” carry through an implicit narrative from station I, “On Approach,” to station II, “On Invisibility,” and station III, “On Dispersion.” The letterpress prints are created by digitally compositing single specimens together to create more elaborate constructions (see “On Invisibility”). The sound works are created by remixing found public domain material and personally recorded material in digital sound editing software.

The impetus for this work was my 2013 trip to Ireland in which I created an installation using local ferns. I was told by the local audience about the victorian obsession with fern collecting and I began reading books on the subject. It became a thesis of mine that ferns in particular could be a metaphor for western colonialism and repressed sexuality. One of the reasons that ferns were viewed as an acceptable plant to have in the presence of women is because they are asexual, and therefore would not inflame the passions of innocent women. In the loose narrative arc of “Fern Stations,” the work begins with “On Approach” and a grid of silhouetted specimens while sounds of radar fade in and out in a track inspired by modern composer William Basinski’s “Disintegration Loops.” The viewer moves on to “On Invisibility” where nature sounds accompany an elaborately composited print made from approximately 24 unique scans of ferns. The print features an 1866 quote from Punch, or “The London Chiavari”  on “How to become invisible.” The quote humorously alludes to the folk knowledge of fern seed and then comments on divisions of social class as modern day invisibility. In the final installation, the sound takes advantage of stereo panning to create the illusion of bees buzzing around the room. The printed work of “On Dispersion” alludes to fern seed being set free into the air, no longer confined to reside on the leaf.

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