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Marguerite Perret, Wonderland


Ghosts Grass Under Glass New World
Inflorescense Inflorescense Pool
Miniature Miniature Chromotherapy
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Learn about our other concurrent exhibit: Teach the Starlings

Paradise Recast: From Wilderness to Garden to Mall
Inflorescense, 2004
Mixed media with photo transfer
on three panels
An Installation by Marguerite Perret

Wonderland explores cultural perceptions of nature and juxtaposes the native ecology of the central Midwest with the artificially constructed garden environment of the shopping mall and suburban development to call attention to the impact of urban sprawl on native species.

At the time of European settlement, most of the Minneapolis-St. Paul region was covered by oak savanna. The oak savanna is a transitional ecosystem that blends the central prairies with the deciduous forests of the east. They are distinguished by a mix of oak groves, forest plant species and prairie grassland, and formerly covered 28.6 to 33.8 million acres in Minnesota.

Gallery Exhibit
Light boxes and mixed glass pieces
Today, only small patches exist throughout this historical range, largely due to a combination of past agricultural development and urbanization, and more recently sprawl. For instance, the population of Eden Prairie, a suburb of the Twin Cities was 2,000 in 1960 and 60,000 in 2000, a 3,000 percent increase.2 Traces of the vanishing oak savanna still persist but are at risk. This includes a 5-acre remnant, which is the subject of a restoration project in the Longfellow neighborhood in Minneapolis at 36th Street and West River Road.

Sprawl is defined as uncontrolled development. It occurs on the margins surrounding urban centers. Typically, the city center is under utilized or sometimes abandoned and the commercial and residential growth occurs in the suburbs. Often there are few regulations regarding land use in these areas, and little if any mandate for green space or appropriate, thoughtful development. Cul-de-sac neighborhoods and strip malls are common results. This is not just a problem of large urban areas, but it also affects smaller cities and communities.

Suburban Wallpaper, 2006, Outside Minneapolis/St. Paul
Suburban Wallpaper (detail)
Digital prints created from original
aerial photographs of areas outside
Minneapolis/St. Paul
When early European-American settlers came to the prairie, they were seeking opportunity. Many thought they were coming to a new promised land, a Garden of Eden. This is reflected in town names like Eden Prairie, Minn., Paradise, Kan., Promise City, Iowa and Joy, Ill. But this new frontier could not meet their expectations. Persuaded by the boosterism of land developers and preoccupied

with their own high hopes, what they saw when they arrived was disappointing. The prairie seemed empty like a desert. The river plains a mosquito-ridden swamp. The woodlands scrappy. It was all burned and tilled, cleared and drained. They had no scale by which to measure the value of what was soon lost.

In the 20th century, suburban lawns, private gardens, public parks, strip malls and shopping centers became the new sites of desire, political power, comfort and social status. These were the new Gardens of Eden, a consumer driven version of nature where commodities and entertainment are conveniently found in enclosed malls embellished with tropical plants and artificial waterfalls with names reminiscent of the landscapes they displaced — Old Orchard in Chicagoland and Florissant Oaks in Saint Louis. Suburban house interiors are painted with colors named for disappearing rain forests, and hungry deer nibble on imported garden plants in well-groomed backyards.

Minnesota Flowering Spurge, 2004
Minnesota Flowering Spurge
Euphorbia corollata
Digitally captured image and
montage printed with pigment on
fine art paper
Humans have always had a complicated relationship with nature. At once part of nature, and outside of it, the impulse to control and improve the natural world for the benefit and amusement of humanity has been expressed through myths and action from the beginning of time. The Garden of Eden was a paradise in the form of a controlled environment. Wilderness, nature, as it truly exists, was outside the gate, the place of banishment and despair. Is the cul-de-sac development another form of that Garden? Can wild areas be preserved and managed alongside human development?

The complexity of an ecosystem can increase the vulnerability of individual species. Such is the case of the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily, an endangered Minnesota Wildflower. This lily grows in Minnesota and nowhere else on earth. It is an ephemeral (short lived) spring bloomer that grows from an underground runner. Each year only 10 percent of the population reproduces by producing a single offshoot runner bearing a new bulb. If the site is disturbed, the viability of the colony can be jeopardized.

This installation is composed of two and three-dimensional works focusing on the ecosystems and human development in the Midwest identified by the Sierra Club as among the ten most sprawl threatened cities in the United States — St. Louis, Mo. (#2), Kansas City, Mo./Kan. (#5), Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn. (#8) and Chicago, Ill. (#10).

Exhibition design and installation for this project was in collaboration with Bruce Scherting, Director of Exhibitions, University of Kansas Museum of Natural History. Transportation of artwork was supported through a faculty research grant from Washburn University, Topeka, KS.

Learn about our other concurrent exhibit: Teach the Starlings