Virginia Wilcox – Arboreal
Deadbeat Club 2021
Virginia Wilcox’s debut monograph – consisting of photographs made in the large Los Angeles parks that are equally hardscrabble and breathtaking – is quite aptly titled Arboreal. Because they have so many irreconcilable demands placed on them by both civilization and climate, the dominant subjects of the artist’s vision seem more “tree-like” or “relating to trees” than they do the actual thing. We can’t help but admire their stoic resolve. The pictures, Wilcox says, “offer a winding journey through a mangled urban landscape that looks something like wilderness, towing the line between the natural and built environment.”
The word “arboreal” of course is also used of animals who live partly or entirely in trees, and we see here how the human animal has used and overused these spaces: alterations to the topography, infrastructural incursions, plain old trash. But Arboreal is no simple environmental diatribe. Rather, it is a clear-headed finding of complicated meaning that is necessarily as ambiguous as its subject. The singular strength of the book lies in the high-wire tension that Wilcox has created between the encroachments on the land and its sheer stubborn beauty – all juxtaposed against the sprawling city below and surrounding. Wrapping everything in that sort of light only known in Southern California, she somehow offers us photographs that are simultaneously as plainly understood as evidence and as thrillingly complex as the mind of the maker. “A suggestion of infinity,” in Wilcox’s words.