Material Stories: Inverting the Anthropocentric Gaze
Eerie and beautiful, Lorenzo Rangoni Robertson’s Material Stories displaces the human through subtle perspectival shifts and explores the urgent need for environmental preservation through the age-old act of gathering. Natural materials and stories are collected alike, taken apart, reassembled and reinvented. Stories unearths the latent symmetry between language and trees: the concealed root systems of etymological usage entangling each word with its semantic neighbour in the same way that trees are all interconnected by the Wood Wide Web of roots. Like the rhizomatic structure of trees, language’s collaboration of meaning is always able to change and grow in different directions without ever totally losing connection to its origin. Similarly, the cultural stories we tell about our planet are organic and far from absolute, the separationist rhetoric of ‘man versus nature’ being the most prominent. Rangoni Robertson engages with the elemental strands of such narratives, draws them apart and flips them. In opening out the root system and revealing its understor(e)y, Stories prompts a reconsideration of the ecological and ontological narratives which have shaped our understanding of the world.
Captured on grainy film, the witchily beautiful stills from Rangoni Robertson’s Creature of the Forest plays upon the idea of discovery, intriguingly by evoking its opposite. A phantom limb protrudes uncannily from a pile of moss, willow, twigs and leaves, the faceless form evoking an aesthetic atmosphere of eco-horror - its ‘Day of the Triffids’ meets Tacita Dean. By choosing to cover his human subject, Rangoni Robertson becomes able to dis-cover, to reveal the blurred and indistinct line which divides the traditional man-nature binary. This erasure of definite divisions evokes the liminal elements of the work such as the frequent mirroring, inversions, and portals. Each subject in Creature is thus concealed in order to be revealed in their rawest form: matter. By opening up what Albert Camus described as ‘a region where matter drives language aside’ - a ‘weird realm’ where matter refuses to ‘mean’ - Rangoni Robertson effectively levels man and nature, unifying them through their shared materiality. In this light, the anthropocentric narrative of humanity’s special separateness is rendered unconvincing.
Points of Contact, a film of spontaneous performances in crafted sets, explores the boundaries, or lack of, between artist and nature, establishing a non-hierarchical equilibrium in the process. In one still, the artist’s body folds round a trunk of wood, hands and feet precariously balanced, yet deeply rooted to the surface by grooved hand-holds. The body is contorted, perched like some arboreal creature, human face hidden, with only a tangle of wood and limbs visible. The mediums of human body and wood draw attention to the symmetry and synergy between the two: wood contorts body as much as body carves wood, thus creating a fluid interchange of co-causation, whilst also diminishing the metaphysical distinction between them. Philosopher Emanuele Coccia has explored how plants, as neither physically nor metaphysically separable from the world which accommodates them, have ‘modified the metaphysical structure of our world’. For Coccia, it is only the fanatical tenacity with which humanity tries to make itself distinct from the rest of nature that separates us, rather than anything ontological. Human beings’ very existence defies the separatist rules of ‘man and nature’ and Lorenzo knows it. We have never been singular entities, but rather exist as holobionts: collaborative compound organisms of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and tissue. The work therefore forces us to rethink our own ontology within the context of a new biocentric, rather than anthropocentric, view. Pointedly, many of Points’ stills are photoshopped so that their images are flipped beneath them, mirrored as if by a pool of water. In doing so, a portal is opened into an estranged inversion of our own world, creating a borderless entrance which beckons us towards the conceptual flipping that his work invites.
In the context of an age where political indifference is widely cultivated and the natural world is seen primarily as a resource for humanity, Rangoni Robertson’s work is a fresh voice for the ecological mission against the climate crisis. Above all else, he reminds us that the thing we are destroying - the earth - is not separate from us, nor distinct from our homes, or our loved ones.
Visit Lorenzo's portfolio page >