Hunting Requires Optimism

There is a lot going on at the Jordan Schnitzer this spring. "Contemporary Oregon Visions: Jo Hamilton and Irene Hardwicke Olivieri" is on view, an imaginative show featuring Hardwicke Olivieri's mystical nature inspired oil paintings and Hamilton's large scale figurative crocheted works. Josephine Allmayer's minute and illustrative cut-paper works from the museum's permanent collection are also on display, so delicate and fine it puts contemporary paper-cutting darling Nikki McClure to shame. "The Human Touch", an exhibition of selections from the RBC Wealth Management Art Collection, just opened last Friday night and boasts big names like Chuck Close and John Baldessari. Although "The Human Touch" satisfies the desire to gawk at the work of celebrity artists in person, the point of the show, albeit ambitious and generally interesting, doesn't extend beyond prompting consideration about the myriad ways the human form can be represented.

Vanessa Renwick's installation "Hunting Requires Optimism" provides greater impetus for thought, drawing attention to aspects of our modern lives we often brush aside. The piece features ten vintage refrigerators, lined up and extending an invitation to be opened. Nine of the ten contain small retro TVs, each broadcasting black and white footage of a wolf chasing its prey across a snowy landscape, an illustration of one of the most basic tenets of survival: the quest for food. Most viewers are familiar with this type of video, difficult to watch because of the savagery involved but fascinating in spite of it. We are attracted to brutality, like rubberneckers at a car crash. The footage successfully points out the ease of our modern lives in contrast with the kind of energy spent in a hunt, expounded by a fridge magnet that states a surprising statistic: the 90% failure rate of wolves while hunting. One almost feels guilty for how simple buying meat at the grocery store is, how easy it has become to get fed.


However, our relationship to food is also convoluted. People are so often uncomfortable confronting the way food is raised and processed. We ignore the persistent, concealed violence in things we consume daily to sustain modern convenience, from the cruelty of the meat industry to the general disregard for those in other countries manufacturing and providing our cheap wares. An interesting side effect of "Hunting Requires Optimism", intentional or not, is the warm and fetid air that wafts out of the fridge upon opening. It seems Renwick perfumed the inside in an attempt to mask the smell of ancient, rancid food leftover from the days of when the machine was actually useful. This failed attempt at covering rot is an apt metaphor for our startling efficient way of masking our latent brutality.

"Hunting Requires Optimism" reminds the viewer how distanced we have become from any natural order, and how we've designed artificial systems to compensate for it. We might feel comfortable, and believe we are enlightened, but deep down we are still animals.