Essay by Kathleen Whitney
One of the most striking characteristics of Pat Warner's body of work, and this particular installation, is its lack of reliance on a romanticized view of nature. Warner's love of nature is palpable, but pragmatic, she treats her subject with wit and humor; a good way of seducing her viewer into listening and looking. Her work is bridge building; it is not meant to show the 'right way' to a crowd that needs to be seduced back to the straight and narrow. Indeed, Warner's work is characterized by clear talk; if images could be said to speak, this installation speaks to its viewers plainly and directly, inviting discussion, collaboration and interaction.
Warner is well aware that the California sky is still fairly blue, grass and trees green, that food still comes out of its ground. California's reputation as a 'garden state' and tourist haven, huge size, and dramatic beauty masks the dangers that threaten. It doesn't 'seem' polluted, doesn't seem 'endangered'; but there are those power blackouts, the enormous demands for water.
Naturally the perception of a danger point having been reached and surpassed can be dismissed as merely a matter of perception. Warner is not a didactic artist; she does not gives us statistics, frighten viewers with images of catastrophe. What she does in effect is create an imaginary visual narrative, a fairy tale that speaks of a possible future, a ludicrous, comical future where trees grow in museums and grass can be moved around on carts. These trees are new and improved; they have no need for pesticides, don't require water except symbolically. Warner's museum trees are the pure idea of a tree without the fuss and bother of irrigation and maintenance. Warner's work calls attention to this absolute moment in the present and the possibilities inherent in it. As absurd as it may seem, with genetic engineering and increasing demands on water supplies, Warner's eco-future is not an entirely unlikely possibility. In this future, the absolutely natural and the totally artificial are co-joined, genetically altered. Warner's fake trees are the products of the nostalgic view of nature; we want to keep those pretty things around decorating the landscape even if we have to kill them to keep them.
"Gurgle, Weep, Flow" is made even more effective because of its indoor location. Warner has done site-specific outdoor pieces in the past; the works she has situated inside are a consequence of a deliberate decision to utilize distinctions between the 'natural' spaces of the out of doors, and the 'artificiality' of indoor spaces. With a great deal of dexterous wit, Warner succeeds in confusing the distinctions between exterior and interior, real and fantastic, possible and probable.
On its super-artificial surface, "Gurgle, Weep, Flow" is about the long-pending water crisis in California and the rest of the U.S. More importantly, this installation is about perception and the nearly comical lengths to which people will go to avoid dealing with unpleasant truths and the consequences of their own actions.
Warner's installation has universal application; it creates a space that stands in for and symbolizes any number of 'real' spaces. Her piece is derived from a desire to restore the relationship between the physical ground and the humans who inhabit it. Her work is not motivated by sentimentality, but by the simple desire to create discussion, provoke thought, and expand the potential of reality.