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In the eastern United States, two types of climbing vines, called Chinese and Japanese wisteria, have been used to decorate gazebos and fences. If not carefully controlled, they quickly engulf surrounding trees, shrouding them in a thick web of greenery that physically chokes all underlying plant life and blocks out light—viciously killing everything underneath.
A parallel effect in the built environment can be found in Nicola López’s art. Her five installation works (consisting of woodblock and lithographic prints on Mylar), six mixed-media drawings, and one intaglio print depict a chaotic world of manmade technology—satellite dishes, television sets, steel towers, round pipes, and twisting cables—that has gone horribly awry.
Like the wisteria, her installations snake around the lighting tracks, heating pipes, and water ducts above the gallery walls, literally consuming the architecture. Wall-mounted steel armatures push forward more prints into the gallery space and spill onto the floor. While the industrial imagery in Blighted, Parasite, and Interloper spread like vicious vines, the loudspeakers and steel lattice towers of Mirage fail to curl, bend, and sway but instead hang strangely limp. Like its title, half of Under Its Own Weight sags to the floor, while its twin structure spikes skyward. Like the plant kingdom, even seemingly permanent structures have a limited life span.
López’s chaotic drawings, with their occasionally awkward lines, portray industrial and urban scenes similar to the installations but in a more controlled fashion. Eye of the Storm shows a collapsing black hole of skyscrapers and smokestacks sucked inward with solid beams; other works depict pipes spew acrid smog and sewage among a labyrinth of machinery and factories. They’re ugly scenes, but it’s impossible to look away: there is beauty among the chaos. There is also an underlying sense of humor that pervades López’s work, but not so much a sense of hope.
López crucially chooses outmoded but not yet obsolete industrial infrastructure as the subject of her work. Compared to today’s advanced technology (think tiny cell phones or computer-aided architectural design), these steel towers and plodding satellite dishes are dinosaurs. Importantly, the uses and abuses of these leftovers have brought on environmental, social, and economic problems of the present.