Alex Grey’s “Gaia”
At first glance, Alex Grey’s “Gaia” presents a sharp dichotomy between unspoiled Nature (hooray!) and industrial civilization (booo!). But Grey’s attempt is foiled by his own imagery.
The artist loves eyes, for good reason: eyes represent awareness and look trippy even when you’re sober. To stick them on things that aren’t aware, though, like the central tree and the atmosphere, admits that the biocentric message is hollow. If the best way to elicit sympathy for non-human objects is to make them look more like humans, it suggests humans really are superior. Even “nature” on the left side is crafted to appeal to human needs–a savannah, the environment in which people evolved.
The faces in the sun and moon are particularly jarring, contrasted with the mechanical ICBMs soaring nearby. All I can think about are the actual missiles from space–the comets and asteroids–that strike the earth every hundred million years or so, perfectly natural and perfectly horrifying to things that actually do have faces outside of medieval tapestries.
The inconsistency appears in reverse, too: look at the giant phallus at the bottom-right of the tree. Its appendages are either insect legs or thorny branches, unnerving precisely because they represent wildlife free of pesticides or plows. The attempt to marshal imagery from Genesis into the service of Gaia is particularly awkward, since Eden’s villain was a snake, not a steam engine.
I’m not criticizing Grey for demonizing nature (plenty of it is scary!). What bothers me is the self-refuting effort to imply human action is a moral offense against the biosphere, when really people are the only things that give the universe any worth. Trees, moons, and clouds make no distinction between right or wrong. Only things with brains can do that.