On my way to view 'The Greenhouse Effect' I stopped by the four- month vigil in Parliament Square to uphold British pig-farming standards. A pig is happily living there amid London's traffic, in a real life rendition of an art work at the 1996 Kassel Documenta. Art mimics life, life mimics art. This is the premise that brings together an international collection of artists, who explore the blurred boundaries between nature and culture.
The 16 artists at the Serpentine Gallery (which is aptly surrounded by a landscaped park) aren't tackling the grand historical debates that have informed landscape design or traditional landscape painting. Instead they deal with the detritus of nature as it seeps into the urban environment.
It certainly seeps into the gallery: Tony Matelli's sculpted weeds appear to grow out of the ventilation ducts, while in Roxy Paine's Psilocybe Cubensis Field a small forest of mushrooms colonises the floor. This infestation ignores the neat boundaries of plinths or cordoned-off spaces, as does Michel Blazy's Le mur qui pele, where an entire wall of the gallery is given over to what looks like peeling paint in a damp-ridden home. Blazy and other artists such as Tom Friedman have exercised a craftman's control over their work: Le mur qui pele is made from rice flour and water, while Friedman, fascinated with entomology, painstakingly recreates insects such as a fly or a daddy-long-legs out of clay, hair, Play-Doh and fuzz. The above pieces rely on mimicry of nature - art acts as a mirror of reality. An almost anti-technologist view prevails in the exhibition, with the participants showing a preference for 'low' art forms and the associated activities of the hobbyist or amateur collector. Yutaka Sone has made a simulated jungle out of sponge, dried seaweed, fabric and bark. In Mat Collishaw's Butterfly Table a video camera projects a film of captured butterflies onto a screen inserted into a jam jar.
The work, says the accompanying catalogue, doesn't deal with environmentalist issues but with nature's role in contemporary society. Nonetheless, one is drawn to the gentle romanticism of Nina Katchadourian's Mended Spiderweb, highlighting the fragility of nature as the artist attempts to repair webs which are then unravelled by the spider. Elsewhere the Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson makes a shower of rain seem a source of wonder in his strobe-lit installation. The catalogue assures us, though, that the artists are 'highly self-conscious [and] understand the codes they are manipulating to produce a specific emotional effect.'
But while the exhibition is awash with flora and fauna, the attempt to merge interior and exterior is not pushed far enough. The exhibits here look too much at home in the gallery to seriously challenge our assumptions, whether about culture or nature.
Corinna Dean is an architect in London