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Now on view at New York gallery Victori + Mo is Adrienne Elise Tarver’s “Secret of Leaves.” The artist is known for exploring the emotional effect of art, and in this show invites the audience to explore the feeling of the tropics. The show takes over the space, creating an exaggerated environment that represents the feeling of a tropical environment, rather than factually representing it. To learn more about her practice and the exhibition, Whitewall spoke to the artist.
WHITEWALL: Tell us a bit about your creative practice in general. Why did you begin?
ADRIENNE ELISE TARVER: I began making art because I loved to paint and to make things. I keep making art because I have a lot of questions and making art seems to be the best way for me to discuss larger ideas and begin to find answers. I find that I’m less interested in telling anyone anything with my work and I’m much more interested in opening discussion and asking questions.
WW: Can you speak to your interest in moral intrusion?
AET: I’d like the viewer to test their personal limits. My work asks you to intrude upon private spaces and I’m curious how we navigate our own moral, mental, and physical boundaries. When do we sense our own shift from viewer to voyeur? I’m interested in the space where looking becomes a transgression and what is seen reveals more about the viewer, than the viewed.
WW: What did you want “Secret of Leaves” to say?
AET: In this exhibition, there’s a sense of fantasy—surrounded by hyper-saturated leaves and structures, the space mimics elements of a jungle, but misses the mark on the reality of that space. It’s the idea of tropical—the exaggerated, manicured, and illustrated version.
I think about and look at Henri Rousseau and Paul Gauguin a lot and how they framed the tropics (quite literally) for European viewers—either completely from the imagination, like Rousseau, or full of young female muses as seen through Gauguin’s eyes. The tradition of exoticizing non-European un-westernized tropical lands and inhabitants was and is still popular. Just watch a cruise or resort ad to see some of the same ideas: beautiful lands for your pleasure, locals for your entertainment.
We (and I intentionally include myself in the “we”) fall into the seduction of the leaves and the water and the breeze. It becomes easier and easier to ignore what may be problematic with how we have framed these places and to just enjoy the vacation and look for a souvenir. In the 19th and early 20th century, fascination with these environments, inhabitants and lifestyles led to living exhibitions such as Human Zoos. That’s the extreme, but how did we get there?
WW: What are some of the challenges you face in your practice?
AET: My work is not about being factual, but I think a lot about truth and variations of truth based on our own perspective. Whether you are inside a space or outside looking in, you’ll see different things and come to different conclusions. Creating a private space is about protecting your truth, but you cannot control what other’s see and the stories they form from the information they gather on the outside.
WW: What do you feel is your responsibility as an artist?
AET: I think my responsibility as an artist is to remain open and critical (of myself and the world), and to respond to my world and experiences in the way that feels most honest for me.
“Secrets of Leaves” is on view through March 19.