Artist photographers Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey work almost exclusively with living plant material, a medium through which they confront issues of both temporality and our relationship with nature. The pair creates large-scale photographs using grass on a vertical canvas, creating stunning portraits that are initially vibrant, but that eventually wither and disappear.
The pieces, as photographs, are intriguing in that the photographic medium is supposed to preserve a moment that has passed, whereas Ackroyd and Harvey revel in the inevitable disappearance of their images. The images, which are almost exclusively portraits of humans, are dependent on the living grass to be preserved. While the medium of the photograph can be regarded as a process of death in that it brings attention to, in Roland Barthes’ terms, an object’s “having-been-there,” the grass used in Ackroyd and Harvey’s images encompass the entirety of life and death.
The images are ultimately slave to the medium, which is where notions of ecology come into the picture (excuse the unintentional pun). They bring to light a poignant fact that our human existence is ultimately interwoven with the ecology surrounding us. Further, the grass images of the American dollar bill and of pieces of architecture highlight the relative insignificance of human-made institutions, as they will die just as grass does.
Most poignant to me is the image entitled “Testament,” which depicts an elderly woman’s face, wrought with wrinkles. She is looking straight ahead, directly at the viewer, and yet the strength and history behind her gaze becomes secondary to the continued passing of time inherent to the grass.
The multiplicity of layers behind each image-sculpture similarly produces a poignancy that captures the impossibility of permanence both in our memory and in humanity, drawing attention instead to the importance of our relationship with the natural.