Paradise lost

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Ringling Museum photo exhibit features contemporary look at Eden
By JANUARY HOLMES - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

The Garden of Eden lies in a mysterious veil of biblical history and centuries of legend. Picturing such perfection — a paradise unlike all others — might be a hard concept to grasp, but imagination lends itself to lush greenery and fruit, beautiful trees and manicured grass.

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art takes the visualizations a step further with its newest photography exhibition, "Picturing Eden", which opens Saturday.

The exhibit, developed by New York's George Eastman House, features contemporary works of 37 well-known artists from six countries. Their depictions of Eden span imagination with clusters of trees, fruit and Eve in the midst. Other depictions travel beyond the norm.

Expect to be surprised, said Donn Roll, Ringling's exhibition coordinator.

"You would think that all of them are dealing with images of these gardens and the whole idea of gardens being captured nature. But there are some artists who are dealing with different approaches."

There's Vincent Serbin, for instance, who captures Eden through the evolution debate. He uses superimposed images of a guerrilla skull with the human form.

And Adam Fuss, who uses individual pictures of a baby and a snake floating in water.

"They become symbolic in a lot of ways for life and death and temptation", said Roll.

Roll said visitors to the exhibit also will be intrigued by the different photographic techniques the artists use.

"Picturing Eden" will be on view through Aug. 2.

There are four sections in "Picturing Eden" that echo mankind's relationship to the symbolic garden: Paradise Lost, Paradise Reconstructed, Despairing of Paradise and Paradise Anew.

Paradise Lost looks at the garden as a utopia that slipped out of human hands. It also deals with the themes of life and death, said Roll.

Paradise Reconstructed shows the attempts to recreate what was lost. Some artists, like Michael Kenna, recreate a paradise that is perfect in every way. One that is similar to many of the majestic court gardens in the world today, with trees in perfect symmetry and bushes perfectly trimmed, said Roll.

The Despairing of Paradise examines the failures in recreating Eden — that perfection is beyond mankind's reach.

"There are photographs where bugs seem to be controlling the world or overseeing it,” Roll said. “They're very much the focus of those works. It's the whole idea that nature has sort of gone wrong in this attempt to recreate."

Lastly is Paradise Anew, which shows beautiful gardens flawed in some way. Take Ruud van Empel's work, for example. Roll said van Empel's Eden involves lush green gardens and doll-like youth.

"They're somehow eerie", he said of the children. "Although they're in this beautiful environment, there's something missing. And I think that's really the point — acknowledging that we can come close, perhaps, to recreating Eden, but it's not going to be without its faults."

The exhibit has had curators a buzz with Eve's part in the garden on a symbolic level, said Roll. For some, Eve is seen not as someone who lost innocence for mankind, but as a person who exercised free will.

"So although we've lost paradise, we've gained choices", Roll said. "If everything was perfect then there would be nothing to contend with, and I think that's a lot of theme of this show. It's recognizing that we can't recreate paradise and we have to contend with the fragility and the faults that we come up with."

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by Ruud van Empel. All rights reserved.