Artificial implants: Crowder augments nature

Susan Crowder, "Florida Hybrid 0720."
Susan Crowder, "Florida Hybrid 0720."

Okay, I admit it– Susan Crowder got me! I spent the first 10 minutes looking at “Florida Hybrids,” Crowder’s photographs on display at Angelo, believing I was encountering exotic but wholly organic tropical plants. In my defense, if you’ve ever seen a rambutan–a small red fruit covered in rubbery green tendrils that I ate in Malaysia–you, too, would be open-minded to the strange possibilities of nature.

But I was puzzled. Wasn’t Crowder better known as a sculptor than a photographer? Didn’t she have a reputation for creating public installations using organic materials? Then I noticed what looked like a silver wire at the center of snaking vine, after which I spied a bit of printed lettering on the back of a coral-colored berry. Aha!

The truth is the six oversized and two medium photographs in “Florida Hybrids” are vivid records of Crowder’s recent sculptural project. In contrast to her previous works, in which she created hay-bale structures and bedsteads of dried flowers in urban settings, Crowder here crafts fantastic flora out of manufactured materials–rubber hoses, ping pong balls, packing strips–and installs them amid Florida’s jungle-like vegetation.

The result is convincing, especially because Crowder works with variations on a theme. One set of plants sprout neon shoots–varying in color from location to location–that rise out of a tangle of black or green scrub, below which dangle coiling tendrils. The other set comprises giant clusters of orange or yellow berries that resemble bittersweet on steroids. In both cases, they look like alien invaders that have found a natural foothold among Florida’s palms.

With regard to Crowder’s photographs of her artificial implants, two words: Size matters. The six large digital prints leap with an in-your-face intensity that immediately transports viewers to the humid world of the tropics. They scream “summer” with a relentlessly cheerful palate of saturated greens, oranges and yellows. Particularly beautiful is an image in which coral-red berries float amid pale aqua foam in turquoise seawater. Meanwhile, the two medium works, despite depicting the same lush flora, utterly lack impact.

Ultimately, all the images, though fun, are somewhat one-trick. Crowder’s sculptural chicanery is persuasive, but once the viewer realizes the ruse, there simply isn’t a lot of “there” there to hold the eye; the photographs dazzle with color but are more decorative than substantive.

Nevertheless, Crowder’s “Florida Hybrids” offers a brief tropical vacation rife with eye-popping plants that redefine exotica.

Susan Crowder’s exhibition, “Florida Hybrids,” is on view through June 30 at Angelo. 220 E. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 971-9256.