Charles Harlan: Trees

August 26th - October 6th

As with the summer swelling of Kudzu that blankets much of the roadside landscape of the Southeastern United States, the physical world is layered and writhing with evidence of the passing of time. In the colder months, the plant goes dormant in retreat, allowing a withered view of the hidden mysteries where few people tramp around. And for all the efforts of herbicide manufacturers and users of landscaping equipment, the vine enthusiastically grows back again with warm seasons, stirring controversy along the paved lines of highways and roadways – the flat, human counterpart to the shapely contours of form Kudzu billows into. The Kudzu plant, a legume prolific in its intricate, rhizomatic system of growth, has been banned by some countries for its invasive tendencies, suggesting a very mixed historical relationship between itself and those humans who have variously propagated it for its beneficial qualities - such as its medicinal and culinary use, potential for soil improvement and so forth - and those who have slashed feverishly at its vigorous new shoots of green in attempts to quell the lush sprawl. Identifying it as a vile weed or a miracle vine might be a question of perspective or semantics, but it does seem the plant illustrates a taut and tightly interwoven link between humankind and the surrounding natural world.

Somewhere beneath all these snaking vines and rhizomes of multiplicity there is a deeper layer of armature – the archetypal tree which through the ages has maintained a more eternal and venerable stature. Charles Harlan’s sculptures evoke something lost to time and strange growth, uncovered through a sort of archeology of the organic - that which didn’t quickly decompose but managed to cling to the longer half-lives of man-made materials. Set upon and pushing through the Euclidean grid forms of various types of industrial fencing, the tangle of nature persists towards a composition of opposites made to reconcile with one another. Harlan points out that there is no word, as of yet, for the action of a tree growing through a fence. So while we might not be able to quickly pinpoint this occurrence in language, visually and experientially we are drawn into the middle of these pieces; as humans who live in and manipulate the natural world, we are never so far removed that the pendulum of influence won’t swing back and forth across the path we tread. In these simultaneous moments of convergence, seemingly halted in a floating, static perpetuity that will somehow eventually decay, the energy still vibrates. These disparate elements twist their way forward, prompting through fusion a process of perception and understanding. And it is a wonderful irony when that which was designed as a form of separation becomes, through time, the instrument that props up the other.