What if we could better understand our own human social systems—the means by which we communicate, the patterns that govern our interdependence, and the intricacies that form those larger structures? And what if we could appreciate the infinitely more complex systems that thrive in our natural world? Perhaps we, as humans, could then see how we fit into a larger universal system housed by nature: an ecological world in which our relationship to nature is not adversarial, but one of peaceful coexistence. This is the vision of Julie Wolfe’s Quest for a Third Paradise.
Inspired by artist and art theorist Michelangelo Pistoletto’s concept of a third paradise—the fusion of a first environmental paradise in which humans are fully integrated in nature and a second artificial paradise developed by human intelligence through science and technology—Wolfe not only formally visualizes this evolutionary transition, but provides a systematic map replete with the visual data for how to get there.
For Wolfe, evolution toward the coexistence of humanity and nature demands meticulous surveillance and harvesting of data. Observation of color, shape, and cyclical change form the basis of the series In a Day Flight. With data drawn from her natural environment, social settings, literature, and her own biological experimentation, Wolfe drafts a series of abstract maps of intuitive insights. Her impulsive lines track change, direction, sequencing, connections, and cause and effect. Challenging the textually bound pages of a textbook, the artist deploys her own visual vocabulary to express perception, memory, and impressions of data.
Seeking to communicate this information and its lessons, Wolfe visualizes and aestheticizes the material evidence of our current climate crisis. With our attention drawn to the visible minutiae of our ecosystem, we can revel in its beauty. Green Room presents a live laboratory of glass vessels filled with over 200 water samples collected from local and national waterways over a period of five years, each supplemented with natural plant extractions, industrial chemicals, and biological stains. Illuminating its surroundings with a stunning spectrum of light and color, the installation changes over time as the vessels’ contents settle into varying stages of decay. Transformed by this sentient experience of beauty and destruction, we are reminded of the paradise at stake.
In Wolfe’s third paradise, the natural world prospers but humanity succeeds as well. Her work reveals a crowd of individual, fully realized components learning how to function within a system. If individual components consolidate rather than assimilate, the system succeeds. Wolfe offers multiple visual cues for this goal. Both Magnitude of Equality and Col-or Wheel conjure the vibrant beauty of this resolution. Each piece synthesizes a vast palette of brilliant, cacophonous color into a strikingly beautiful and peaceful singular entity, but one in which in each individual color appears distinctly visible. While these works envisage more utopic, integrated conclusion, Constructed Situations diagrams the path to realization. This series of schematic drawings re-presents motifs, shapes, and lines pulled from works throughout the exhibition in an impersonal, systematic framework. Transformed into abstract elements contained within a system, individual shapes become defined by their relationship to each other and their surrounding frameworks. Through a series of change and consolidation, Wolfe’s visual vocabulary reveals a metaphor for how we, as individuals, might organize our lives, living spaces, and urban environments. Yet, Wolfe warns, that like the bending and flexing individuals restricted in their surrounding geometric shapes in her Contours series, we need to find a balance between necessary limitations and our need for interconnection. Humans must find a way to live as individuals but also as a cooperative system.
Further scrutinizing the significance of the individual, Wolfe draws attention to the impact of perspective. The Color of Pigeons 1,2 addresses the subjectivity of color and how we each perceive color differently. Informed by the Luscher Color Test, developed to determine one’s psychological state according to their response to a selection of colors, the piece poses the question of how individuals, each with a unique perspective, interact together as a society. Wolfe investigates perspective in a more literal sense in the dueling images of the diptych River 1 & 2. One panel is an abstract vortex of color and the other, a photographic image of a man plunging into an ocean. Both images convey a feeling of hovering weightlessly over a vast expense. The abstract image is seen from a completely aerial perspective, where-as the photographic image shows a perspective that is not entirely aerial, but rather the man and water are seen at an angle from only slightly above. The tension between the two disparate points of view forces the recognition of how we see each particular image. Our perspective determines what we see: a truth that must be respected in a world of collectively functioning individuals.
Claire D’Alba, Curator