The Green Mantle invites ATLiens to slow TF down

Ann-Marie Manker curated a new show for Kibbee that pays homage to the patience of nature.

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After 22 years residing and probably (at least) double that number in shows, Californian-bred artist Ann-Marie Manker is pretty much an honorary Atlanta native. In her double decade-run here, Manker hasn’t missed the city’s rapidly shifting structures and new buildings. The rolling changes, coupled with exposure to nature writers like Rachel Carson, inspired Manker to take better note of stillness and natural beauty, thus lending inspiration for curating The Green Mantle: Botanical Portraits and Histories at Kibbee Gallery. CL chatted with the artist via email about challenges in organizing a group show, the inherent power of nature, and a hope for more Atlantans to board their bikes this spring.

You mention Rachel Carson as a major inspiration with this show. How does nature writing as a genre inspire your own work? 
Ann-Marie Manker: I think that writings about nature have been an inspiration in many aspects of my life and how I interact with the natural world. Ultimately these relationships manifest whether consciously or subconsciously in my work. My reverence for nature is present when I utilize land or animal as metaphor within a variety of contexts. Nature is also a source of strength that I’ve utilized to empower the figures that I draw. 

Tell me about your curation process for this exhibition. Have you worked with many of the featured artists before in another capacity? Please share a little about that.
AM: I had the opportunity to teach a botanical illustration course last winter quarter at SCAD Atlanta. We kicked off the quarter with a lecture from Professor Cohen about her field research and documentation of Georgia native pitcher plants that she conducted in the late ’80s. During our conversation, the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson came up and I immediately connected with its title for the upcoming exhibition. Carson’s book focuses heavily on informing us about the toxins that kill nature and the title itself is prophetic, imagining life without new growth and regeneration. I wanted the show to celebrate nature and in turn remind the viewers of the beauty, fragility and significance of nature’s presence and balance. “Earth’s Green Mantle” was the title of chapter six and I thought that was a wonderful way to describe nature. Kibbee also has a mantle fixture in in its gallery space and I asked artist Susan Cipcic to make a site-specific installation playing off of the architectural feature and title of the show.

As for selecting the artists, I chose some emerging artists who created really great botanical drawings that pay homage to traditional botanical illustration. For some of these artists, it is their first time exhibiting their work and I think that opportunity is really important. I’ve seen this first-time exposure ultimately lead to gallery representation. Kibbee Gallery is a great place for curators to go “shopping” for new artists. I also asked established local artists to be in the exhibition who utilize nature in their work in a variety of contexts in order to contrast the more traditional drawings. I’ve worked with many of these artists in the past having exhibited with them. 

Growth — by way of nature, flowers, etc. — is a really popular theme in springtime shows. How is The Green Mantle different?
AM: I am guilty of being inspired by springtime and wanting to mirror life through art, however I think what makes The Green Mantle different is that many of the pieces have the discipline and technical skill traditional to botanical illustration which we don’t often see in alternative spaces. Those artists started their work in January and worked all winter drawing houseplants indoors such as succulents and orchids. There are also works that dive into the historical, magical and medicinal use of plants. Scott Silvey’s titles reflect the purpose of his selection of plants, such as “Feet, a Tea to Reduce Swelling” or “Blood Sugar, To Lower.” Lisa Alembik’s drawings embody a dark humor with her “Murder Ballads: death by garden stake.”

What’s presented the biggest challenge while organizing this show?
AM: I guess curation is the biggest challenge. When the work arrives in the gallery I have to organize and edit the work down, sometimes at the expense of omitting an artist and their work. I don’t like having to do that, but the work speaks for itself and it is a visual process of compliments and contrasts both visually and conceptually. Some pieces work better with each other than others. I don’t have the luxury of seeing all of the work completed early on. This work is fresh. I could imagine ideal curation formats but the reality is looser than that and decisions have to be made during drop off and installation.

Why is it important for Atlantans right now to consider humankind’s coexistence with plants and other natural elements?
AM: Atlanta is currently experiencing rapid change and growth. Sustainable planning should be a part of every development. Having lived in Atlanta now for 22 years, I have personally witnessed a change in air quality. It might be my biggest gripe and I dread hot summer days with no rain when I can feel the air burn when I breathe. I think it is important for not just Atlanta, but all global citizens to consider humankind’s coexistence with nature. The way we have evolved as a species is so destructive and based on consumption. We are caught up in a construct that is unsustainable. It is important for all of us to take steps to educate ourselves and others, to make better and smarter decisions about our future and our relationship with nature. I think that there needs to be a cultural revolution to make big changes happen. We can look to nature for the answer. New ideas always begin with a seed.

Describe the piece you’re most excited to present as part of this group exhibition.
AM: I cannot pick one favorite piece but I am really excited to introduce the work of Blanca Chen, Avery Beason, Ree Blankenship, and Yu-Han Peng who are showing for the first time. Their drawings are so strong and incredibly beautiful. Their talent is off the charts.

How do you hope visitors will feel when leaving opening night?
AM: I hope they leave inspired to nurture nature and question their personal relationship with plants and our environment. I hope that their reverence for nature can translate into ways where they can make decisions to actually do something better — whether it is supporting local farmers, planting something in their garden, growing their own vegetables, eating whole foods instead of processed foods, giving the gift of a plant, riding their bike to work, spending more time walking ... the list could go on.  

The Green Mantle: Botanical Portraits and Histories opens at Kibbee Gallery Sat., April 9, 6-10 p.m.