Taryn McMahon: Watershed, at McDonough Museum

Impressions (Breakneck Creek), Pigment print installation by Taryn McMahon. Photo by Grace Carter.

Watershed by Taryn McMahon, on view through March 4th at the McDonough Museum of Art, visually depicts the imperfect relationship between humans and nature. Initially, the works appear subdued, but the longer you spend with them, the more you’ll notice discrete nods to our increasingly polluted waterways. These works quietly portray the defilement of natural environments, a process that is both gradual and calamitous.

McMahon is an associate professor at the Kent State University School of Art, where she teaches print media and serves as the co-area head of print media & photography. She earned her B.F.A. from The Pennsylvania State University and her M.A. and M.F.A from the University of Iowa.

McMahon’s work is concerned with the human impact on ecologies and Western conceptualizations of nature. Her art explores dislocated and hyperreal landscapes that conflate reality with simulation. According to her artist statement, she is particularly interested in the ways that art has fueled and shaped fantasies of nature. Her drawings and photographs reveal complex interactions between the human and the non-human. They are made on-site and are then manipulated and filtered through digital and handmade printmaking processes to generate mixed media works on paper, and installations.

Impressions (Cuyahoga River), Pigment print installation by Taryn McMahon. Photo by Grace Carter.

At the McDonough, McMahon’s work can be viewed from different perspectives. It can be seen from a stairway above the gallery at a bird’s-eye view, and at ground level. Impressions (Cuyahoga River) and Impressions (Break Neck Creek) comprise a two-sided installation that feels perfectly at home in this space. These large-scale pigment prints on canvas are a true testament to McMahon’s interrogation of the human relationship with nature. In the presence of this work, we are made to feel small. The airy nature of the piece is a reminder that although nature is vast, it is also delicate. By suspending the work in the center of the room, we can experience it from multiple angles, which adds more dimension to the work as opposed to if it were hung more traditionally on a blank wall. Light and shadow add to the overall drama of the installation.

Erosion 01-04, laser-cut monotypes by Taryn McMahon. Photo by Grace Carter.

A Series of Entanglements 5 depicts branches with plastic water bottle motifs blurring into the background. The water bottles are not the primary focus of the piece. Our eye focuses first on the flora. In the background, white shapes resemble a world map, surrounded by blue representing large bodies of water. The work also incorporates an overlaid grid pattern, which appears to be a discarded piece of plastic netting. Because McMahon has used abstraction, the obscured shapes reveal themselves slower and softer.

A Series of Entanglements 6 evokes a riverbed polluted with plastic netting. McMahon draws attention to the fact that the interaction between humans and nature is all around us, all the time. One need not look far to find remnants of human consumption littering the landscape. McMahon’s works are subtle, just as pollution can be. Often, what we mistake for organic matter, especially on beaches, is actually plastic.

Erosion 01-04 are a series of laser-cut monotypes. Their bright hues differentiate them from plastics found in or near waterways. The plastic netting that we’ve observed in other pieces takes on a more dimensional form through these works. Hung on the wall, they are graceful and refined, as opposed to the stray bits of plastic debris we find written into McMahon’s two-dimensional prints.

Watershed is a reminder that humanity and the natural world are inextricably tied, for better or for worse. Landscapes that were once untainted by manmade plastics are continuously contaminated, but their inherent majesty remains.

The McDonough Museum of Art

One University Plaza

Youngstown State University

Youngstown, Ohio

Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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