Rachel Maly challenges ideas of humanity’s dominion over nature and animals in exhibit ‘Immortal Nature’

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, February 12th, 2020 at 9:02 PM
Rachel Maly challenges ideas of humanity’s dominion over nature and animals in exhibit ‘Immortal Nature’ by Hazel Modlin

Senior sculpture major Rachel Maly hosted her solo exhibition in Bates Gallery from Feb. 3-7.

The exhibit, titled “Immortal Nature,” featured both animals and nature in unique ways, as it looked to flip the common person’s perception of the organic world on its head.

“My art challenges the prevailing ideas about human dominion over nature and animals in western culture,” she said.

“I seek to elevate and immortalize the status of nature and the animal as topics worthy of discourse of art history and theory.”

Because Maly is a sculpture major, she works with a wide variety of materials. Her exhibition pieces range in composition from ceramics, bronze, wire, dirt mixed with spackling paste, and even garbage from the beaches at Lake Erie.

Though Maly does not necessarily have a favorite medium, she said: “I like modeling materials, but I also like to work with new things. I pretty much work in whatever medium I think will suit the message of the piece.”

A prime example of a unique medium that represents a message are her four rabbits made out of dirt, spackling paste and a wire armature. Maly described the process she went through in order to use this unusual mixture. “In this particular medium, I just got big buckets of dirt and then dumped some lightweight spackling into it, and just mixed it by hand, and then patted it onto the rabbits. Then I had to let it dry for three or four days each time before moving them and adding more.” 

She got the inspiration to make these rabbits after viewing a construction site between Edinboro and Erie on Interstate 79. 

“I drive past it every week, and all I could picture were all of these animals fleeing from the construction and deforestation [and] into the forest from the field. And that’s part of the story of these rabbits who are very alive, but then, instead of dying, merge in body and consciousness with nature.”

Maly’s other piece, made of unique materials, depicts an albatross. Her albatross has an accompanying story, which she revealed stemmed from extra research she did for the honors college. 

“I did an honors contract for my sculpture course. I think it was an intermediate sculpture course, and I wrote the story while I worked on both of these pieces.” 

The piece depicts an albatross in an almost majestic pose with its wings outspread. But there’s a twist: it’s made entirely of wire and garbage. “I have welded rebar for the legs and the inner structure of the body, and I just covered the entire thing first with wire mesh, and then just welded the plastic to the form. The plastic is actually from Presque Isle. I just walked a couple of beaches and just collected garbage bags worth of plastic, just from a couple trips there. I still have leftovers. It’s just so sad how easy it was to collect, and there was still stuff I could not carry from the beach.” 

Maly’s albatross was also accepted into Chimera, a journal published annually through the joint efforts of the English and arts departments here at Edinboro.

Maly’s pieces involve a lot of detailed work, and because of this they often take a long time to make. She mentioned her rabbits specifically. “I started in the summer, mid to early July, and then I finished maybe three to four weeks into the semester.” 

Some of her pieces are smaller, and she said the smaller ones often take less time to finish, perhaps only a couple weeks.

She explained that she would not be where she was today if it was not for the help and guidance of several of her professors. “I would like to thank D.W., Professor Dietrich Wegner, Professor Lisa Austin, Professor Parlin, Dr. Solberg and Dr. Fiala for all the instruction and criticism they have given me.” 

In the near future — Maly is in the senior year of her bachelor’s degree — she is “planning on staying on to get an MA (Master of Arts), and then I’m going to go on to get an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) someplace else; I don’t know where yet.”

Maly’s mission is far from over. She plans to continue in her endeavor to raise nature up and to elevate it in the eyes of her viewers. 

“It is my goal to restore dignity to, change the way culture views, and consequently treats, animals and nature.”

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