Installation - white wall with relief deer

in his 1969 collection of essays, The Long-Legged House, poet and novelist Wendell Berry offered an ecological insight that millions of Americans are only now coming to fully embrace. “We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world,” he wrote. “We have been wrong.”

The work of MU assistant teaching professor of art Alexis Callender embodies this view of humanity’s altered status. She is an artist who seems acutely aware that we are reaping the environmental whirlwind sown by our industrial forefathers. For Callender, signifying a sense of a changed and changing world involves conveying displacement, the understanding that our traditional relationship to the planet has been upended, and that the consequences of anthropomorphic change, while still uncertain, will undoubtedly be profound.

Her works on paper depict animals in monochromatic spaces that defy easy interpretation: What could be a preindustrial Arcadia might just as easily be a post-apocalyptic dreamscape. Her installations make use of stenciled images, cutouts and mixed media — found objects, rubbings from building facades, recycled elements from earlier work — to immerse audiences in similarly beautiful but unsettling places. A more recent project explores how plastic, that “strange, timeless and oppositional material,” relates to water, the “mass of matter that governs much of our life.”

Callender is no sentimentalist. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., she easily equates the “romance of a bucolic landscape” with the allure of “detritus on an empty lot.” But her acute sense of our planet’s fragility, and of humanity’s exploitation of its vulnerabilities, powerfully informs her thinking about living things. “Everything has a nature,” Callender says. “As these natures become pressed against one another, their relationships become more complex‚Ķ It’s a melding, one that tends toward entropy.”

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