No Man’s Land
24 March – 27 April 2011
24 March, 6-8pm
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“No Man’s Land” presents the multiple facets of Bittle’s artistic practice. As a professional diorama maker for the American Museum of Natural History, Bittle works with a technical precision honed through years of adherence to the strict conventions of her craft. Such precision is found in her paintings and drawings as well; the works from the studio, however, are noticeably freer in execution, and they manipulate subjects in a way that blends scientific research and artistic invention.
A prominent theme in Bittle’s work is natural history: “the history of animals that exist in large numbers, with consideration of the unknowable nature of the animals’ instinctual motives within their environment.” She is fascinated by the intersection of abundance and fragility, as her jackrabbit painting attest; this animal of prey is known for its reproductive power and ability to survive in the scrappiest of conditions.
Shown together for the first time, the paintings in Bittle’s series depict solitary, gnarled jackrabbits in a desert landscape. The hares’ agitated expressions disconcert the viewer in a reciprocal gaze, denying any attempt at anthropomorphization. “No Man’s Land” allows the viewer to observe a certain loosening of Bittle’s style over the four years that she produced the series. Since 2008, the works have become larger, often consisting of multiple panels, and freer in terms of framing and technique. They have also become more metaphorical, alluding to fifteenth-century Italian painting and Egyptian statuary.
Nestled in a cargo trailer, Bittle’s diorama Preserving Mass Extinction is an imagined landscape of Marfa, Texas as it may have looked 250 million years ago, featuring fluorescent sponges, red tube coral, sea urchins and trilobites. During the Permian period, shallow seas covered much of what is dry land in present-day Southwest Texas; it was the mass extinction that ended this period that created the rich oil reserves of the region, known as the Permian Basin. A quotation of the American Museum of Natural History’s 1960s diorama of the Permian Sea, as well as a memorial to her own time in the West Texas desert, the installation connects ancient geological time to the present environment. As Bittle notes, “It is a collage of past and present,” one that calls forth the primordial sense one feels while traveling through this dusty no man’s land. It is the first in Bittle’s series Portable Landscapes.
Preserving Mass Extinction also playfully pokes fun at the town’s status as an art center: with its kitschy presentation of an fantastical scene in a cargo trailer, it resists not only the omnipresent minimalism of Donald Judd’s work, but also the division of art and entertainment that such high-brow seriousness can imply. It is the first in Bittle’s series Portable Landscapes.
Born 1975, Indiana, Joianne Bittle has exhibited in Marfa, TX at Eugene Binder Gallery and in the Bronx at Wave Hill. She has participated in several group shows, including “Entomologia” at the Observatory Room, Brooklyn; “Rubber Sheets” at C.R.E.A.M Projects, Brooklyn; “Bioluminescence” at Akus Gallery in Willimantic, CT; and “Viridis II” at the Hewitt Gallery of Art, Marymount College, New York. In 1998, she earned a BFA at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, and was awarded an assistantship at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice, Italy.