John Roloff at Lance Fung

Art in America, Review of Exhibitions
May, 2000, pg. 163
by Carol Kino


Since the mid—1970’s, John Roloff has been showing earthworks and other pieces that toy with the relationship between art and nature. This time, for his third solo show in New York, he offered, along with some photographic work, an arresting installation that opened the gallery to the outside air.

The installation, an earthwork called Holocene Terrace, was the dramatic focus of the show. Upon entering the gallery, a long SoHo loft space, one encountered a Plexiglas shaft jutting inward from an open window. This vitrine was mounted on pine two-by-fours so its underside was level with the sill. Its lower interior surface was layered with moss and branches, and the whole was topped with a sky of gray Sheetrock. During the show’s run, the moss sprouted mushrooms and ferns and became scattered with twigs and dry leaves; a few tufted clumps of earth suggested that a bird or two had flown in and dug up the surface. The effect was that of a living diorama or, on sunny mornings, a beam of light made palpable.

One reading of this piece could be a Minimalist projectile, containing a framed slice of nature, had penetrated the gallery space. But at the same time, because Roloff also places moss outside the window, it seemed as though nature was creeping forth from the gallery into the Manhattan canyons. Regarding the work, it was hard not to think of the SoHo that once was — a fertile artistic ground that produced fabled earthworks by Alan Sonfist, Walter de Maria and others, along with Gordon Matta-Clark’s architectural interventions. To me, Roloff’s piece was also a reminder of the unpredictability of art and nature in the neighborhood’s increasingly synthetic universe.

The back room held several photographs in which black-and-white images of nature had been digitally manipulated to create a rectangular frame; the center of each piece was cut out, leaving empty space. The largest, Landscape Projection (Unknown Window), showed a stand of massive California redwoods whose tops pointed toward a blank space. Another work pictured trees reflected in a lake whose surface created the frame’s inner edge. Roloff used medium- and large-format cameras to take the original shot and a computer to compress, flip and repeat the image. The overall impression was that nature, aided by artifice, had opened into the great void.