My journey to see Scott Serrano’s show at Electric Works had me in the perfect state of mind to view “Picturesque Flora Wallaceana: Botanical Ambulations in Greater Wallaceana 1854-1857.” A treacherous bus ride on the line affectionately known amongst Muni drivers as “the jungle,” a walk searching a desolate block in SOMA unfamiliar to me, a confusing maze of white walls and identical doors until, lo, the gallery door was opened for me and I arrived at Wallaceana, or the proof there of. Hung in a Victorian parlor style space, the show consists of works in the style of scientific illustration, as well as a few “specimen” examples. Laden with puns and political humor, “Wallaceana” references a fictional scientific expedition that Serrano uses to critique the American political system.
The natural order makes for some easy references, such as the “The Tri Colored Creus Amid The Mortal Desolation Of The Plateau Du Cheney” an analogous reptilian looking cactus anchored into the cliffside named after our former Vice President, while others require quite a bit of background info such as “Oatmans Five Lined Cactus” relating to the story of a kidnapped Mormon pioneer girl. The full gambit of American society and politics seems to be the focus, and not surprisingly the content feels piled on. Not to worry though, didactic information abounds, some in the form of observational entries included in the piece, some as additional narratives along side the work. Convincingly written of the era, meaning dry and circumlocutious to the extreme, they offers context for the show, though not necessary information. The most successful works are able to stand on their own, dazzling in their detailed and imaginative rendering.
Others working in this style of appropriated Victorian era scientific documentia, such as the Audubon style watercolors of Walton Ford, seem to influence Serrano, and he shows himself to be capable and adapt at doing the research legwork and story telling necessary to this approach. While the content felt excessive at times, there’s no denying that wit and humor can be found throughout the show.
For more information on the exhibition visit here.
-Contributed by Kathryn McKinney