Bumbershoot: The Moss Gatherer

Allison Kudla intricately undoes the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

If you say "environmental art," most will envision Andy Goldsworthy stacking twigs and stones, or Spiral Jetty and other large, gouged earthworks, or the large-format photos of Edward Burtynsky documenting our degradation of the planet. The group show Kerfuffle will certainly include that kind of image, courtesy of local photographer Chris Jordan, who's fond of dumps and landfills, our manmade mountains of trash. But working on a far smaller and more intricate scale is Allison Kudla, whose capacity for (urban eden, human error) uses biomatter as the medium for a computer-controlled printer spewing delicate organic patterns.

The self-propelled installation, controlled by algorithms, is like a tabletop laboratory device, with a swingarm sketching back and forth to deliver a plant-cell "ink." Kudla, who's completing her Ph.D. at the UW's Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media, creates a kind of living canvas inscribed in a sterile gel. "You have to wash your hands for 10 minutes" before setting it up, she explains.

That's after she's laboriously harvested the moss to grind up into the green, living ink. Kudla grabs it where she can find it, including from the roof of a friend's house. "It looks fairly shady," she laughs. But when a convenient patch presents itself, she'll stuff it into an old plastic shopping bag, like a moss thief.

The resulting patterns, enclosed on a table about four feet square, may resemble the urban grid, circuit boards, ice crystals, rock striations, or leaf patterns. Based in binary code, they reflect the "repeating patterns" of nature, Kudla explains. "How can we repeat those patterns? It's something I've been doing my entire life." And more, how can she manifest those often-microscopic designs on a scale visible to the human eye? "That's been a challenge," she says.

Having moved from Chicago five years ago to attend the UW, she's only shown capacity once before (in New Orleans). Her other work has been exhibited only a handful of times in Seattle, including at McLeod Residence. After Bumbershoot she's off to Bangalore, India, where she'll be teaching and making art among the many high-tech companies located there.

In capacity, as in her other works, Kudla speaks of a fascination with "growth and decay," the entropy of natural forms that grow so precisely, achieve their temporary perfection, then wither. This weekend's installation isn't meant to last, as an oil painting in a museum is. But like nature itself, it's both fixed and fleeting.


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