Sitka Art Invitational at Oregon Contemporary, Blue Sky Gallery,
and Well Well Projects
Portland, OR

Fern Mania explores the melancholic undertones inherent in nature kitsch, examining how it evokes both longing and desire, concealing a sense of loss. This project was inspired by the historical fascination with ferns, known as pteridomania, which swept through the Victorian era and was especially popular among women, resulting in a craze characterized by excessive admiration of ferns (also called "vegetable jewelry"). This infatuation generated a proliferation of derivative production, creating an explosion of kitsch.

Initiated during the Blue Sky/Sitka Photography Residency at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology in October 2021, these works are a convergence of dozens of photographs capturing the Sitka Spruce-Western Hemlock forest understory blended with simulacra and kitsch. Van Patten’s process started with a handheld flash and various colored gels to photograph elements like mushrooms, banana slugs, and the ubiquitous western sword fern fronds. These images were then printed, cut, and affixed to an artificial fern, serving as an armature. The entire tableau was subsequently re-photographed, inviting contemplation on perceptions of nature, kitsch, and the interplay between what we see and what we imagine beyond.

Photo documentation by Mario Gallucci

This exhibition was supported in part by a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council