At home in Los Angeles, I feel the pressure. The looming dread of impending everything. The rat race is pointless. You ponder all the things you want to acquire, and the rest of the time thinking about how to acquire them. Maybe this makes some people happy, but it drags me down. If we have a soul, urban life does not fulfill it. We walk around with something gnawing at us, with no clue how to resolve that uneasy feeling. We try to fill the hole with consumption. (I have the latest iPhone! How did I ever live without it?) By next week, that feeling returns.
The cycle is endless.
When we wander away from the city, away from the asphalt, away from cell reception, the POINT of it all changes. Time slows down. Time flies. Out there, life has a rhythm determined not by alarms, not by bill due dates, not by the need to fill parking meters, or make it to dinner reservations, but by the movement of the sun across the sky. In nature, in the wilderness, the backcountry, the sea—we call it being “out in the wilds”—we calm down. We smile and feel wonder again, like a child.
Kozy and I are not avid outdoorsmen by any means. We have not done the PCT or the JMT, and we rarely get the chance to take extended camping trips, but for us, there is an allure to the wilderness. We are chasing a happy feeling, the sensation of nature filling a hole in our soul. It makes us whole again and returns us to the real world—the world we humans evolved to explore, to survive and thrive in.
It’s not hard to escape the city—to stand at the base of a roaring waterfall, or mere meters from a shy brown bear, or among the rocks and trees without another person in earshot—where things are perfect and gorgeous and terrifying. This is what it’s like to be alive, to feel amazed and perhaps frightened at the same time. It’s the stuff that leaves you breathless and buzzing. After a hike, our minds are smiling, even if our limbs are dragging like stones. Just a little taste of moving quietly through less-spoiled lands does us good, that hole filled just a bit with an honest day’s exploration.
This is the joy of the natural: the feeling of the primal. Alone out there, we want to rip our clothes off to move quietly through the landscape like the rest of the animals. If the elements don’t constrain us, why not just be in our bodies, even for a few minutes? Shame slips away. Aside from the immediate enjoyment, it’s also symbolic. Not exactly rebellion, but a feeling that all people should move back toward a more primitive, natural way of living. How far back do we need to go? Pre-industrial? Live like native people? Live like neanderthals? Who knows, but somewhere back there is something real, tactile, and uncertain.
This idea has crept into our artwork over the years. Human figures in our work have shrunk to express how big the natural world is compared to us. Standing at the base of a giant coast redwood and straining to see the top, it makes more sense to render ourselves small as squirrels. The figures have been stripped of their clothes to fit into that world. They are pursuing joyful activities—dancing, skating, drinking, fucking, hiking, eating, yoga, playing music, peeing. (Oh, the joys of peeing in nature!) Our works are made to be amusing, but the idea that everyone should get out there in the wilds from time to time has become pretty serious to us. How much better off might we be, if we all got out there? Is it some miraculous cure for the dark death that is modernity? Who knows, but I bet you won’t feel worse.