Kelli Williams: Scala Naturae
See thro’ this air, this ocean, and this earth
All matter quick, and bursting into birth:
Above, how high progressive life may go!
Around, how wide! how deep extend below!
Vast chain of being! which from God began;
Natures ethereal, human, angel, man,
Beast, bird, fish, insect, who no eye can see,
No glass can reach; from infinite to thee;
From thee to nothing.—On superior powers
Were we to press, inferior might on ours;
Or in the full creation leave a void,
Where, one step broken, the great scale’s destroyed:
From Nature’s chain whatever link you like,
Tenth, or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike."
-Alexander Pope, Essay on Man (Epistle 1, 1732):
In the words of the artist:
“Hatred is an underrated emotion. Operating with the belief that the world is an unjust place polluted by ancient, religious delusion and it isn’t my job to decorate it, I made this show to examine the centuries old belief in the Scala Naturae or Great Chain of Being. In its various permutations it is one of the most pernicious of social hierarchies and systems of religious belief, which ordered all living things in a divine, regimented social order. Originating with Aristotle it became codified within Christianity with angels and deity at the top followed by a careful ranking of humans of various races, animals, plant life and minerals at the bottom. It persisted throughout the Enlightenment and early Lamarckian models of evolution before finally being replaced by the Darwinian model of organizing living things based on their physical not spiritual characteristics. A key facet of this system of belief was the view that it must be static and unchanging and that no part could be damaged or undermined or the entire chain would break. In my small but sincere way I’ve attempted to chip away at hierarchy by corrupting the tropes of religious art like the Instruments of the Passion and the Hand of Fatima. By depicting serraglios and harems as well as spiritualized masochism I’m mocking Islamic and Christian fables. By depicting 60’s hippies and forms of natural purification like high colonics I’m mocking nature worship. This show is intended as a malicious, anti-theistic attack on social and natural order and prostration to higher powers and collective identities as well as an examination of the clash of belief systems and the anxiety underlying teleology and classification.”
Kelli Williams has an MFA from Yale University. This is her second solo show with the gallery. Her work was exhibited in The Incomplete, curated by Manon Slome and Hubert Neumann, Chelsea Art Museum, New York. She has participated in The Academy of Arts and Letters Invitational exhibition in New York and “Through the Looking Glass” at Galerie Bob van Orsouw in Zurich, Switzerland.