It seems like just yesterday that our free-market fundamentalists were drunkenly bellowing "Drill, baby, drill!" How time flies! Now that we've all entered a new phase of environmental consciousness — call it BPCE, the BP Common Era — the Kala Gallery's Groundswell show, curated by Betti-Sue Hertz of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, bears a timely and incontrovertible message: It's time to stop fouling our nest.
The artists here would undoubtedly agree, yet their artwork is anything but polemical. Elliot Anderson, Mitra Fabian, Nathan Hodges, Suzanne Husky, Joan Margolies Kiernan, Rebecca Najdowski, Emily Payne, and sonicSENSE (Jennifer Parker and Barney Hayes) combine, in Hertz's view, a "poetic ... acknowledgment of the unsteadiness of the culture/nature split" with an exploration of our relationship to "water, air, mineral, and plant life" through scientific data and methods. Anderson has created a hydroponic garden, "Nonsite: Alamitos Creek," that cleanses mining-polluted waters; with glass-housed plants irrigated via plastic tubes, ventilated by an oscillating fan, and illuminated by garish yellow light, it suggests both science lab and Biosphere — an apt metaphor for our polluted planet.
Fabian juxtaposes a jellyfish-like tangle of netting and rope ("Ghost Net I") with an endangered albatross of plastic; both are inspired by our floating oceanic garbage patches. Hodges documents a hiking/hitchhiking trip he and his fiancée took along the coast to Portland, enjoying wildlife and local hospitality, in his book/journal, Hike. Husky's photo book, Modern Wild Lives, focuses on people who live lightly on the land, à la Thoreau, in yurts, domes, and ramshackle zero-mortgage dwellings built of recycled materials like wooden shipping crates and pallets covered with sand, clay, and straw.
Margolies-Kiernan is showing nine mixed-media collages that combine signs or symbols of objects, people, and animals with superimposed patterns and diagrams from maps and charts, uniting different realms of experience within an abstract format. Najdowski's digital animated stop-motion video, "Trace," transforms woodlands cluttered with debris and junk into arenas of frenetic secret metamorphosis. Payne's abstract "Basin" paintings in gouache depict nature symbolically. Finally, SonicSENSE has constructed an apparatus, "solarSONIC," that presents solar wind data interpreted through digital animation and perturbations in hanging curtains of silver Mylar. Our planet-trashing revels have ended; that sucking sound you hear could be our future. Artists' talk Saturday, June 12, at 2 p.m. Groundswell runs through July 3 at Kala Gallery (2990 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley). 510-841-7000 or Kala.org