An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn't exist, for the artist doesn't live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. -Andrej Tarkovski Eden's Bridge is a multimedia installation of photography, video, and sound conceptualized and executed by husband and wife, artist duo Lissette Schaeffler and Bill Cruz. The exhibition is the culmination of an Artist-in-Residence at the Deering Estate and is curated by Melissa Diaz, the Estate's head curator. Eden's Bridge consists of three parts: A Hidden Conversation (large format photographs on the wall); The First Two Leaves (a video and sound diptych displayed on two eye-leveled, flat screen television sets); and The First To Leave (video and sound displayed on multiple cathode-ray tubes (CRT) television monitors. Background of Eden's Bridge:
Let's share a bit about the artists and the context in which they created Eden's Bridge. Cruz is a writer, a musician, and a videographer. His bio is less extensive and comprehensive than his accolades. Upon engaging in conversation with him, one starts to discover that there is much more to his sensitivity and experience than what he shares as part of his process. As an interesting contrast, Schaeffler is a photographer and professor of Photography. During an artist talk, she confessed having taken more than one hundred 4 x 5-inch negative color plates, having processed them all, to finally choose ten to be displayed as part of Eden's Bridge. This level of scrutiny by an amateur artist is improbable. Schaeffler is also a scientist who took a career turn and embarked on a Masters of Fine Arts path in Photography after receiving a Bachelor of Science in Biology. Eden's Bridge is the first collaboration of this artist duo. It all started with an application to become Artists-in-Residence at the Deering Estate. The year-long residency began in 2019 but was extended after the pandemic hit in early 2020. This global happening pushed the artists to reexamine the concept of isolation along with their relationship to nature and technology. As many places struggled with the decision to remain open, the Deering Estate continued to allow their Artists-in-Residence to visit the extensive acreage that is its natural areas. By being isolated in nature and with minimal external noise interrupting their strolls, Schaeffler and Cruz could experience nature in its most pristine state, devoid of distractions. They also got to experience how fleeting nature can be. For example, they discovered that a particular tree or terrain patch stopped being in the same condition (or not be at all) when they would return a day, week, or month later. This realization led the artists to play their hand on deck and capture the scenes as they encountered them. In turn, these experiences reminded them how different the natural world is from the urban environment. Typically, we tend to orient ourselves via the markers, buildings, street names, or numbers that explicitly help map our way throughout cities. Since a natural environment does not allow for such a clear understanding of the markings in the topography, remembering our ways inside a hammock or a pine rockland becomes quite challenging. Under the pressure of being in a natural setting, humans from urban environments tend to feel lost. The trees are ubiquitous and non-distinctive, offering a dual sense of belonging and a reluctant fear of the unknown. The Collaboration: Input from Schaeffler regarding sound mattered as much as decisions of subject matter in photography that Cruz offered and remained part of Schaeffler's body of photographs. Cruz's initial contribution to Eden's Bridge was the use of sound. However, Schaeffler and Cruz began pushing their boundaries until their edges were blurry. The following headlines were extracted from the artists' written statement about the sections contained in Eden's Bridge and are used to lead the description of each component in the exhibit. Transience and Essence: As the first component of this exhibit, Hidden Conversation consists of 10 color photographs of approximately three by four feet each. They depict precise moments in the natural world that surrounds the Deering Estate. A brown leaf hangs in mid-air, in a void surrounded by green foliage, and a branch of a spring palm bent toward another tree as if to whisper something unintelligible to us humans. These visual poems, the photographs in a Hidden Conversation, invite viewers to ponder on the fragility of these fleeting moments. They are observed and captured by Schaeffler's keen eye and sensitivity through her camera as a reminder that permanence is an illusion and an individual experience. If we wanted to replicate her understanding and awareness of those moments, it could become an opportunity to have similar but never identical experiences. Awareness and Place: The second component of this exhibit is titled The First Two Leaves, and it's strategically located in the library immediately across from the Great Hall, where the other two parts are exhibited. The idea is to propose another conversation piece among the distant projections, photographs, and sounds. This piece consists of two flat-screen TVs next to each other, the same size and calibration, projecting two different scenes of the different paths found within the natural areas. Both projections are faithful to the sound recorded with the image, and they combine to create a cacophony of wind, birds, and other eerie sounds found in the forests.
Disconnection and Departure: The last component, The First To Leave, interrupts the sequence of photographs in Hidden Conversation with an installation of CRT monitors of different sizes and with varying calibrations of color and sound. They all display scenes from the natural areas that Schaeffler and Cruz frequented while creating this project. The sound is processed and randomly seeded throughout each TV. The sounds don't correspond to what is being shown, and both image and sound change to a different CRT every so often, leaving viewers unclear about what is playing, what they saw, and what will come next. The overall experience of this section of the exhibit imitates an experience any person could have at the real, natural site, where nature plays its part and leaves us wondering whether we may be on the right path or are completely lost and in need of searching for the way back. This metaphor of time and finding our way is brilliantly executed using the CRT displays. For many, these devices were the only television growing up. The relationship one builds with these old units is one of patience and dedication, whether trying to get a signal or simply getting the display to syntonize to the sound. These experiences differ extraordinarily with the immediate, absorbent nature of more modern devices such as smartphones or tablets.
The relationship between the three parts is dialogic, and the natural world is the central theme of it all. The three parts are integrated into their spaces and have a seamless conversation: they invite the viewer that dares to stay and wander through. These artists have convincingly delivered a thorough message and asked for our attention to a symbiotic relationship between all living and non-living things in nature and between technology and nature as they relate to our experiences in this world.Throughout this exhibit, we corroborate that these relationships are not as chaotic and are more manageable than we may think. The creation of Eden's Bridge required this duo to push not only physical boundaries in the natural sites, fighting inclement weather at times and recording or photographing alongside the company of insects that frequent our sub-tropical South Florida landscape, such as mosquitoes and no-see-ums, but it also required their flexibility in opinion and criticism when taking each other's advice and - to paraphrase curator Melissa Diaz -when confronting the dual nature of the relationship: nature/technology and male/female perspectives. Eden's Bridge is a title that inevitably invokes the sacred and the ethereal. Eden's Bridge serves as a push away from their comfort zone when creating work, which in turn results in a symbiotic relationship between the artists as well. They each included their expertise yet allowed for new ways of expression to emerge. With this successful collaborative work, Schaeffler and Cruz elevate the real, natural world into one that invites us to be examined through our lens and to be considered when exploring our role across all relationships in the world we inhabit alongside nature and technology. In the artists' words, "…there are underlying connections between all of us – and nature- that quietly evoke an inherent sense of togetherness. And in many ways, where we are makes us more acutely aware of who we are."
Dr. Liliam Dominguez March 2023
Eden's Bridge, on view at Deering Estate from January 26 to March 31, 2023To learn more about the exhibit, visit the website here