Rebecca Peel’s solo exhibition Four Corners Properties mounts local and artisanal inquiries into the fraught relationship between man and beast. Running from July 16 to August 26 at Kimberly-Klark‘s storefront gallery in New York’s Queens, painted wood panels bear images of helicopters corralling wild horses in government-led population control programs. T-shirt readymades found on eBay become symbols of the Wild West ridden with lassos, bullhorns and the like point towards the surprising potency of the United States’ bucolic interior in corporate branding. Behold: the Western expanse as a twisted version of the American landscape as inadequately natural and in need of human intervention.
Peel’s exhibition asks why Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, John Wayne and George W. Bush, the Texas Longhorns and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream all associate with these Western animals as a means of projecting power. The Four Corners —the point where the states Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado share a quadrilateral border —exists as an expansionist idyll and as the longstanding crosshairs for the violent displacement of indigenous populations and ecologies. Through the exhibition’s focus on the program, whereby the United States Bureau of Land Management forcibly removes wild horses from public land, the supposedly majestic vacancy of the territories surrounding the Four Corners is regarded as a carefully controlled performance of power.
Colorado-born Peel’s journalistic report —the BLM really does manage the nation’s wild horse population with helicopters —unfolds across the three burnished and painted wood panels hung on each of the gallery’s walls. The ‘Wild Horse Catch, Treat and Release Gather’ is a program that seeks to maintain the number of feral horses grazing on public land. Peel recreates images from this program by burning lines into pine planks and applying a painterly scattering of pastel marks, the colored segments overlapping the scorched edges of etched lines. Images such as the ones re-interpreted through the artist’s handicraft have played a large part in the scrutiny of the Bureau of Land Management’s policy of removing quotas of grazing animals from public land. An infamous video shows a stallion in a containment pen experiencing such immense psychological distress that it smashes its head into the walls of its enclosure until breaking its neck and falling over, paralyzed. In Peel’s work, these disconcerting scenes of man versus beast are conceived using the same nostalgia that has induced the look and feel of farm-to-table restaurants and boutique consumerism.
Handicraft elicits a minor-key sentimentality throughout Four Corners Properties that counteracts the top-down iconography sewn into the textile book lying at the center of the exhibition space’s floor. Peel’s book, Le Troupeau solitaire reads as a collection of bad bovine humor —there is at lease one ‘udder’ pun —that ultimately emphasizes the ways in which the flora and fauna of the American West have stood as icons variously humorous and powerful but always in service of humankind. Cleverly installed on the gallery’s large street-facing window, Peel’s own ‘paint by numbers’ coloring pages, completed by children attending a horse rehabilitation educational program, address passersby with spirited expressions of the loving relationships possible between humans and animals. The backs of the coloring pages bearing the names and ages of the young artists face the gallery’s interior as pragmatic if cheeky reminders that new conceptions of nature are yet to be imagined.**