Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys?

curated by Corey Oberlander, Lindsey Stapleton, and Jamie Steele

Vast, Titanic, inhuman Nature has got him at disadvantage, caught him alone, and pilfers him of some of his divine faculty. She does not smile on him as in the plains. She seems to say sternly, why came ye here before your time? This ground is not prepared for you. Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys? I have never made this soil for thy feet, this air for thy breathing, these rocks for they neighbors. I cannot pity nor fondle thee here, but forever relentlessly drive thee hence to where I am kind. Why seek me where I have not called thee, and then complain because you find me but a stepmother?
—Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau’s Maine Woods is written from the perspective of a sort of Mother Nature as she watches some idiot sojourner try to conquer her mountain. She wonders why he’s pushing so hard—and what he expects to find.

The romantic desire to return to nature presupposes that dreamlike and fulfilling experiences await us if we wander long and hard enough into the wild. However, a realistic reconveyance with nature is not about getting back to the sublime vistas painted in the 1800s—and we get into trouble when exclusively visioning nature as an experience of wonder that exists only in the remote, vast, untouched corners of the world.

Remnants of frontier tradition have resulted in a fetishization of big swathes of untainted land as truly valuable in its otherness and purity. But, in reality, how is a backyard tree less other or worthy than the trees that have never known humans? By continuing to place worth on “the Big Outside,” and strengthen our disconnect from our immediate natural surroundings, we risk losing touch with actual nature altogether.

Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys? considers the disparity between a collective expectation of nature-as-experience and the reality of what’s actually there. The twelve participating artists present work that both directly and indirectly reacts to the trouble with the idea of wilderness today—whether by illustrating the ways in which we irrevocably altered our big, natural world, opportunities to honor or exist within real nature, or just how farcical attempts at reconveyance with the myth of true wilderness have been throughout history.

Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys? is curated by Corey Oberlander, Jamie Steele, and Lindsey Stapleton and spans both Take It Easy and whitespace. Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys? includes works by Amy Brener, Hannah Chalew, Belleau + Churchill (at Take It Easy), Stephanie Dowda DeMer, Sandra Erbacher, Michi Meko, Maria Molteni, David Onri Anderson, Vesna Pavlovic, Constance Thalken, Zipporah Camille Thompson, and Wretched Flowers.

Installation view of "Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys?"
Installation view of "Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys?"
Installation view of "Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys?" featuring Zipporah Camille Thompson, "crown chakra," 2022
Installation view of "Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys?" featuring Wretched Flowers, "Mycelium Bondage Vase," 2022
Installation view of "Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys?" featuring Michi Meko, "Black Deceiver Flies," 2022
Installation view of "Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys?" featuring Michi Meko, "Meko Craw Feather," 2022
Installation view of "Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys?" featuring Amy Brener, "Flexi-Shield Jumpsuit (Rose)," 2021
Installation view of "Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys?" featuring Maria Molteni," Shaker Work-Out!," 2021-22
Installation view of "Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys?" featuring Sandra Erbacher, "I wandered lonely as a cloud," 2021
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Amy Brener was born in Victoria, BC, Canada and is currently based in Queens, New York. She is a full time faculty member at Hamilton College. Since graduating with an MFA from Hunter College in 2010, her work has been exhibited at galleries and institutions in the US, Canada, Europe, and China. Highlights include MOMA PSI and Socrates Sculpture Park in New York, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Galerie Pact in Paris, Reyes Projects in Detroit, Wentrup Gallery in Berlin, MacLaren Art Centre in Ontario, and Riverside Art Museum in Beijing. Her work has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, Art in America, CURA, Hyperallergic, Artnet News, and The Brooklyn Rail.

Hannah Chalew is an artist, educator, and environmental activist from New Orleans. Her artwork explores what it means to live in a time of global warming with a collective uncertain future, and specifically what that means for those living in Southern Louisiana. Her practice explores the historical legacies that got us here to help imagine new possibilities for a livable future.

Belleau + Churchill is the collaborative project of Raina Belleau and Caleb Churchill who met in graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design. Feeling constrained by the academic structure of departments, majors, and media, they began to collaborate in a variety of media. Their small, whimsical yet melancholic, early pieces soon became an entire collaborative practice. Their first exhibition, Fantasia Colorado, explored the boundaries between history and legend. It was featured at GRIN in Providence, RI and through the gallery at Satellite Art Fair as part of Miami Art Week. They are currently working on new projects from their shared studio in Memphis, TN.

Stephanie Dowda DeMer is an artist working in the United States. Stephanie dreams in color and believes the camera can capture the spirit that resides in the world. Dowda DeMer is a Studio Artist with the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, a Vermont Studio Center Fellow, a Hambidge Fellow, a Frontier Fellow with Epicenter, and a past resident of Cabin Time. Dowda DeMer’s work has appeared in Oxford American, Bad At Sports, ArtsATL, Burnaway, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Atlanta Magazine, and more. Dowda DeMer is represented by whitespace.

Sandra Erbacher is an interdisciplinary artist living and working between New Jersey and New York City. She has shown widely, with recent exhibitions in New York, Miami, Indiana, and elsewhere. She has work in the permanent collections of Fidelity, Tedeschi, and James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation, and is most recently a professor at Parsons and Pratt in New York City.

Michi Meko is an American multidisciplinary artist based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant and the Atlanta Artadia Award, as well as a finalist for the 2019 Hudgens Prize.

Maria Molteni (they/she, b. 1983, Nashville) is a queer, multi-disciplinary artist, mystic, and Shaker researcher. They are the grandchild of Tennessee square dancers, stunt motorcyclists, quilters, and beekeepers who farmed land just south of South Union Shaker Village (KY) for generations. Their work blooms from this combination of applied resourcefulness and spirited cultural spectacle, themes they also admire in Shaker culture. Molteni’s practice has grown from formal studies in painting, printmaking, and dance to incorporate research, ritual, and play-based collaboration. Molteni has exhibited at numerous galleries and museums as well as basements, meadows, sidewalks, and seascapes across the globe. More formal institutions include The Momentary Contemporary Art Museum (Bentonville, AR), MFA & ICA Boston (Boston, MA), Project Rowhouses (Houston, TX), Den Frei Contemporary Art Center (Copenhagen), Harvard University’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (Cambridge, MA), NGBK (Berlin), Grin Contemporary (Providence, RI), Fruitlands Museum (Harvard, MA), Museum of Design (Atlanta, GA), Conduit Gallery (Dallas, TX), Flower Head (LA, CA), Fuller Craft Museum (Brockton, MA), Fitchburg Art Museum (Fitchburg, MA), and Space Gallery (Portland, ME). Molteni will proudly be exhibiting new work at A+A Gallery during the 2022 Venice Biennale.

David Onri Anderson (b. 1993, Nashville, TN) is a French-American Tennessee-born artist, musician, and curator of French-Algerian Jewish ancestry. He graduated from Watkins College of Art in Nashville with the Anny Gowa Purchase Award in 2016. He has had solo exhibitions at Patrick Painter Gallery (Los Angeles, CA), Harpy Gallery (Rutherford, NJ), and David Lusk Gallery (Nashville, TN), amongst others. In 2020, he published a book of drawings with Zurich-based artist book company Nieves. His work has been shown at the LA Art Fair 2019, the Hamptons Art Fair 2020, Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, and Alabama Contemporary Art Museum. His work has been reviewed, exhibited, and collected internationally with works in permanent collections including the Soho House in Los Angeles, The Joseph Hotel, and the Metro Arts Library in Nashville, amongst others. Anderson is founder and curator of the artist-run space Electric Shed Gallery in Nashville (2018-present). His work has been reviewed in Art in America, Artnet, Burnaway, DailyLazy, Art & Antiques, and more. He is currently represented by Patrick Painter Gallery.

Vesna Pavlovic (Serbia/US) obtained her MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University in New York in 2007. She is an Associate Professor of Art at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Her projects examine the evolving relationship between memory in contemporary culture and the technologies of photographic image production. Expanding the photographic image beyond its frame, traditional format, and the narrative is central to her artistic strategies. She examines photographic representation of specific political and cultural histories, which include photographic archives and related artifacts. She is represented by whitespace.

Constance Thalken is an artist who explores the elegiac through photography and video. The life cycles of the natural world are central to her projects, which include examinations of the human/animal relationship, the complexities of loss, and the interplay between life and death. Thalken’s work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally and is in the permanent collections of the High Museum of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Yale University Library, The Bunnen Collection, the Zuckerman Museum of Art, and Dean, Ringers, Morgan, and Lawton of Orlando, FL, along with private collections. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Ain’t Bad Magazine, Muybridge’s Horse, NUMBER, The Photo Review, ART PAPERS, Burnaway, NPR, Lens Culture, IMPRINTS Magazine, ArtsATL, and DeConform Magazine. Photographs from her Eyes Open Slowly project are included in the book publications Rich Community by Sapling Grove Press, TN and On Death by +KGP, NYC. Born in Nebraska, Thalken received a BA in Psychology from Barat College and an MFA in Photography from Yale University. She is Professor Emerita at Georgia State University in the School of Art and Design in Atlanta where she resides. Thalken is represented by whitespace.

Zipporah Camille Thompson (she/her) is a ceramicist, weaver, sculptor, and activist residing upon dispossessed land of the Muskogee (Creek) Nation in Atlanta, GA. With deep Carolina roots, Thompson explores alchemical transformations through clay and textiles, uplifting marginalized bodies and eliciting social change through her work. Her craft-based practice acknowledges the displacement and sustained oppression of BIPOC folx. Thompson earned her MFA from the University of Georgia and her BFA from the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Her exploratory, unconventional work calls upon craft traditions and with intercultural impact has been featured in digital and physical spaces, both nationally and internationally. Thompson has accomplished residencies at ACRE Projects, Ox-Bow School of Art, Mass MOCA, Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, and POCOAPOCO, MX, among others. She is a recipient of a variety of accolades, including most recently a 2021 MOCA GA Working Artist Project Fellowship and a 2020 Atlanta Artadia Award. She is represented by whitespace.

WRETCHED FLOWERS is a collaboration between two artists using ceramics, textiles, foraged floral design, and digital media to raise questions about ethnobotany and interspecies collaboration. All of the plant material is either foraged or harvested on their property in New Fairfield, CT.