Rhonda Smith

Sometime in my childhood I was told to stop eating snow; fallout from nuclear testing had contaminated it, the purported fault of Iron Curtain countries. Children’s thinking is pretty clear if not fully expressible. Didn’t those nuclear tests happen in the west of the US? I had seen the photos. Why could I breathe the air but not eat snow? What was the iron curtain made of really and why was it so depressing? So this picture of adults, unable to get along and inventing destructive things that couldn’t be undone, on top of making up reality, countered all I had been taught. I am by nature an optimist but have lived with an undercurrent of the dystopian at best, apocalyptic at worst.
And now, in addition to humans’ mutual disregard for one another, we have the ineffable sadness of near irreversible destruction of the place where we live. We can hear earth saying early on to its humans, “Here you are, plenty of breathable air and potable water. Just take care of me.” There was no other ask, no other payment due. The other planets, too hot, too cold or not having the right mixture of elements, once looked upon us with longing and wonder, ”Oh, that beautiful planet! Couldn’t we have all that?” Now they sing a lament. Nature, adaptive, reactive, intelligent cannot retain its former composition.
My work is homage to the beauty and intricacies of natural phenomenon. In recent installations, I have created battle sights visualizing my distraught view of humans versus nature. Buildings, our ambitions, are under assault. The nature components, intent on being, are also besieged, showing signs of the intense, toxic ventures of humans. After a battle, the evidence left behind gives no indication of the victor, only the destructive force.
Stephen M. Meyer in his essay-length book End of the Wild wrote that there are three species existing on Earth today: Weed Species which include any species that can co-exist with humans such as turkeys, rabbits, deer, coyotes, cockroaches, rats; Ghost Species which is any species here now but with an extinction clock running down (think elephants and lions); and Relic Species which are creatures or plants of whose stock there are only one or two left.
One thing I feel compelled to do is atone for this burden of sadness; this is an inner life action. Outer life offers many choices even if our collective direction seems doomed. I don’t want to look at more ghosts. Most of us don’t.