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Into the Wild with Kellie Bornhoft at 40AU in Nashville

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Kellie Bornhoft, installation detail of "Reconditioned Terrain."
Kellie Bornhoft, installation detail of “Reconditioned Terrain.”

How “authentic” should our wilderness encounters be?  Are we helping, hurting, or just fooling ourselves when we add electric lights on a “nature trail”? Is it still an authentic nature trail? This is what Kellie Bornhoft examines in her show “Reconditioned Terrain,” up now through April 29 at 40AU in Nashville.

SCAD - Derrick Adams

A gallery space housed in the offices of 40AU, a web development company, is a recent addition to the Art Crawl scene in Nashville, but it has already found success presenting adventurous exhibitions that provide social commentary on contemporary culture, Nashville’s in particular. Recent exhibitions responded to celebrity culture, urban renewal, and the city’s relationship with its own music.

Continuing this trajectory, Kellie Bornhoft’s show “Reconditioned Terrain” examines urban society’s relationship to “wild nature.” It consists of three installations at 40AU and an illuminating supporting website full of additional content.

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Kellie Bornhoft, detail of “Reconditioned Terrain” installation.

The centerpiece of the installation is a synthetic boulder covered in an array of artificial foliage. Tucked into the foliage, a tablet-size video screen shows a boat touring the Opryland River, an artificial river bordered by live plants inside Nashville’s largest convention hotel. It’s precisely this multilayered examination of our artificially structured relationship with our natural environment that Bornhoft is responding to. Does the Opryland riverboat tour celebrate the hotel’s commitment to our natural environment? Or is it manipulating the citizenry into accepting a counterfeit jungle as real ones are decimated?

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Kellie Bornhoft, video still of a captive goat in a “wilderness park.” (Photo: Kyle Baker)

On the wall behind the boulder, a large video screen shows a loop of two videos Bornhoft shot in Germany. The first is a brief encounter with a “wild” goat that is being stroked through a cage. The second is of a city maintenance man using a blowtorch to “weed” the grass growing between the cobblestones of a public plaza.

Georgia Museum of Art

The videos could use something in the way of a setup. The goat in the petting zoo, for example, became more significant when I found out that it resides in a park  advertised as a wilderness park, where the only wilderness present is tamed wild goats in concrete and steel enclosures.

The third installation, Processes Natural, is an assortment of tree branches, glass bowls, and silver paint.  An automated system of ropes and pulleys in the far corner draws the branches up and down, in and out of the silver paint.  This machine displays in real time the way in which our human ingenuity artificially shapes the nature around us.