Contributed by Kari Adelaide Razdow / Dana Sherwood’s exhibition “Animal Appetites and Other Encounters in Wildness,” on view at the Florence Griswold Museum, embraces domesticity and wildness, method and chaos, human and animal, the ordinary and the magic. Captured in night-vision infrared, Sherwood’s work turns on her appreciation of nature and fantasy alike and her generosity towards the fauna we live with.
For her videos of nocturnal feedings, Sherwood conjures oases of a sort, inviting woodland creatures to outdoor installations of “magical sustenance” incorporating local animals’ diets, ascertained from the previous night’s footage. Thus, she enshrines raccoons, opossums, squirrels, foxes, and ocelots exercisingtheir appetites for gelatin molds, meat cakes, sausages, fruit cakes, apples, and strawberries. Meticulous and lavish, her situations eschew control, and instead resemble freewheeling fairytales, subordinating the artist’s ministrations to the creatures’ impulses. Though recorded events, the videos seem like dramatic monads of make-believe, dreamlike and otherwordly.
Some of her subjects prove fickle. When filming The Pavilion of the Wild and the Time, 2015/2016, in Denmark, Sherwood wrote that “the foxes that I had a bit of luck with yesterday seemed to have lost interest today,” dashing her hopes of a reprise. “Every single time, without fail, something completely different happens.” Fortunately, her stratagems are successful often enough. In the Feral Cakes digital video, recorded in suburban Florida in 2017, raccoons paw grapes out of teacups and devour donuts from crystal platters, while possums and cats vie to take their fill. Vintage lace frames the projection, amplifying the richly peculiar collision of reality and artifice that Sherwood has orchestrated.
In Sherwood’s videos, she is creating spaces for the animals. In her belly paintings, she imagines women living inside the bodies of animals. Bending and dwelling, the female nude is fused into a whole with a rabbit, jaguar, alpine ibex, and snail. These works reflect the mutual embrace between animal and human, and reference networks of reciprocal ecological support and sheltering.
The snail is a key archetype in the show, crowning some of the women and presented alive in The Confectionery Lives of Snails. In this installation, terrariums on the dining room table of the Florence Griswold’s boardinghouse showcase snails eating Sherwood’s “topiary cakes,” sleeping, hiding, and moving. While the tableaux she tenderly creates are anchored in her own lore and artistry, the animals she enlists are ultimately as much her co-creators as her subjects.
“Dana Sherwood: Animal Appetites and Other Encounters in Wildness,” Florence Griswold Museum, 96 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, CT. Through September 18, 2022.
“Dana Sherwood: The Cake Eaters,” Denny Dimin, 39 Lispenard St., New York, NY. Through August 12, 2022.
About the Author: Kari Adelaide Razdow curates independently at The Sphinx Northeast, an itinerant curatorial project. Her writing has appeared in Hyperallergic, BOMB, NYLON, Huffington Post, the Walker Art Center Blog, Eyes Towards the Dove, and elsewhere.