Both Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Bernie Sanders have labeled W "the worst environmental president in our nation's history" because of his more than four hundred rollbacks of pollution regulations. Unfortunately, Decider & Co. has been extending that already lamentable legacy with some ninety eleventh-hour revisions that, unless revoked, will have us, according to a National Resources Defense Council lawyer, "choke on dirtier air for years to come." Millions of tons of new CO2 emissions (some from coal-powered plants located near national parks!) will foul our air and lungs; we'll also have more mercury in our fish and drinking water. It may have been amusing watching last week's shoe fiasco, but in fact the lame ducks are hurling smelly farewell gifts at us, and we're too preoccupied with the economy to dodge.
"The Line of Questioning," an installation by photographer Janet Delaney and sculptor Laurie Polster at Berkeley's Addison Windows, aims at redressing this "misunderestimation" of the environment. A tree, says the press release, symbolizes "ecological and social sustainability ... [and] record[s] the passage of time, frame[s] the present, and provide[s] a window into the future." The show argues for nature's relevance with three elements: Delaney's dramatic, large-format, wall-mounted color photos of forests and grasslands; Polster's simulated groves of aspen tree branches, with the bark peeled off like pelts, and the exposed branches gleaming, smooth, and radiant; and textual elements mounted both behind the trees on the walls and in front of them on the glass window: prose and poetry, respectively.
The prose describes two ecological declines or collapses. The first took place on Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, a South Pacific island once covered by a dense toromiro forest, but mysteriously devastated by the Polynesians who settled there, building huge stone heads; today, only grasslands survive. The second took place in the American southwest in Gila National Forest, as the natural fire patterns of millennia were replaced, as cattle ranchers settled the area, with a manmade war against fire; the advent of airplanes, helicopters, and chemical drops actually made fires more deadly and destructive.
The poetry, from Whitman and Neruda and others, consists of provocative questions about what civilizations should value: "When does supple skin become a wall of indifference? Why worship ideology that is inherently self-destructive? What were they thinking when they cut down the last tree?" Temples, remember, originally simulated darkly mysterious forests; shiny, happy malls make poor substitutes. "The Line of Questioning" runs through January 17 at Addison Windows (2018 Addison St., Berkeley). www.ci.berkeley.ca.us
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