The Limits of Paradise



We romanticize nature, we idealize it in gardens. We sublimate the life and death we find there. The Chinoise wallpaper offers scenes of a colorfully exotic paradise. Yet, in the garden outside, drab Sparrows had been harvested by the residents for the pleasure of eating them. Red Wing Blackbirds fiercely defend their territory against gardeners. Tree of Heaven Sumac, Wild Mustard, Burdock and Thistle invade, threatening the order of a perfect world. Our ongoing war in Afghanistan seems remote, unreal.

Look Here! was a research opportunity and exhibition organized by Ann Hanlon, Marc Tasman, and Max Yela of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Library. Along with other artists, I was asked "to create works that reimagine, transform, and engage with the Libraries' unique archival, special, and digital collections in ways that bring new light and creative perspectives to these rare and unique materials."


Millions of propaganda leaflets are air dropped and dispersed randomly over Afghanistan. Birds, leaves, leaflets - what the wind catches and disperses cares little for borders. I spent hours looking at sparrows flocking between a tree and my bird feeder.


North American Birds by H. Nehring, illustrated by A.Goering and Gustav Muetzel, was written for German immigrants anxious to acclimate to a new world.  House Sparrows, the most populous bird today , flew to all parts of the world but were imported to the USA in 1850.

The high quality of the images UWM Special Collections provided meant I could work directly with information rich files to pry open the singularity of one-of-a-kind artifacts, books and engravings. I was able to laser cut woodblocks and print, then CNC cut, sparrow wings (left). The digital production contrasts with the Zuber room’s wallpaper printed by hand from 500 wood blocks dating back to 1795 (right).

Zuber Chinoise wallpaper

Tree of heaven Sumac

An image of Tree of Heaven Sumac appears in the Chinoise wallpaper with imagined flora and birds. Tree of Heaven Sumac was introduced as a Chinese garden element in 1860's, but quickly became invasive. Currently it is being planted in Afghanistan to hasten refoliation.

Nets used for capturing sparrows destined for a banquet. Songbirds are a controversial delicacy (left). A grid constructed of sumac stems becomes a net-like screen (right).

The Limits of Paradise  pre-assembled in the studio.

The Limits of Paradise pre-assembled in the studio.

Installed: Tree of Heaven Sumac stems, laser-cut woodblock print on brown line mylar, steel, 8'h x 10'w x 4'd 2018

Installed: Tree of Heaven Sumac stems, laser-cut woodblock print on brown line mylar, steel, 8'h x 10'w x 4'd 2018