Ozone Flowers, a show by New York-based painter Michael Assiff, has two pressing events in mind: the onset in 2017 of the Mexican ‘Cap and Trade’ carbon market to reduce greenhouse gasses, and, to the country’s north, the ascent to power of a new climate change-denying political regime. Strung together, the ecological tableaus Assiff creates denote a new world order, a shift in cognizance from which it seems there is no return. Plastic and metal low relief paintings depict colorless “ozone flowers”, unrecognizable within their own ecosystems. They hang upon gouged and pockmarked walls. The engraved and burnt petals of the “carbon offset” wall works resemble the lyrical movements of musical notation and the eerie aftermath of a war scene. Their scattered compositions graph the fluctuations in carbon prices. A layered ziggurat sculpture inverted on the ceiling, surrounded by a congregation of bees, acts as a reversal of a ritualized, pre-modern relationship with nature. The confectionary pseudo-beehive emits an engineered fresh flower scent, one that scientists have found more palatable to bees that no longer recognize flowers having grown in high ozone environments.
Atop a pleather stool cushion, a round painting of leucaena leucocephala, the first tree species to be deployed en mass to combat climate change, is stickered with certified receipts of the voluntary carbon offsets purchased by Assiff to cover his footprint in creating the show.
On the second floor of the gallery, a sculptural collaboration with artist Chelsea Culprit is a purposeful moment of departure from the more elusive metaphorical and schematic depictions below. US Secretary of State and former CEO of ExxonMobil, “Rex” sits with a copy of PopeFrancis’ Encyclical on Climate Change published in 2015.
Here the artists make sure nothing is left to interpretation as to who sits atop the distorted informational order and warped natural world the viewer encounters in the gallery below. Ozone Flowers is the second installment of the painter’s inquiry into post-industrial ecology. In the first, Remediation Flowers at First Continent in Baltimore, Maryland, Assiff depicted nature as a filtering, remediating tool –an industrial instrument within the larger postindustrial matrix. Along with lead abatement wall works and a bioremediation project in the ventilation system of the gallery, Assiff painted pictures of ‘Hyperaccumulators’, plant life used to suck metals and toxins from soil no longer viable due to manufacturing. Assiff asks the viewer if art can be a redemptive process, and the gallery a regenerative space.
In Ozone Flowers, nature is presented as an economic instrument - a token within an anthropocentric landscape driven by growing capital. In this environment, pollution is no longer a subject of industrial development, but instead a post-industrial financial right. Plant life is little more than a symbol used for economic strategy, a means for
appeasing lax environmental regulations to turn a profit. In Ozone Flowers, the question of redemption is posed within a system whose structures of power have made its own logic all but impenetrable. Something has been entirely lost. To remediate an ozone-soaked reality one must turn to the remote language of monetized values and create cogency within the unnatural.
- Nika Chilewich
Michael Assiff (b.1983)