Natural Truth

The Swiss duo Nevercrew’s murals find new ways to explore an enduring environmental dilemma.

One of the persistent complications of environmental thought concerns the human relationship to other species. Are humans special, meant to watch over (or dominate) lesser species? Or just another animal-on-Earth, building cities in the way a spider spins a web or a beaver impounds a creek? What is nature, compared to human nature? It is heartening to see the murals of the two-person Swiss collective Nevercrew bring this conversation to the urban fore.

Christian Rebecchi, 42, and Pablo Togni, 43, have been painting and sculpting together since 1996, developing a style of murals that pull other-than-humans back into relation with their modern, urban kin. Nevercrew’s bears, foxes, badgers, and whales coexist on a massive scale with a city’s sidewalks, fire escapes, and apartments. Through realistic depictions set against clean graphic lines and shadow, they ask: Who are these creatures to us, as our species overtakes the planet?

Take Bracketing, a two-mural diptych commissioned in Nancy, France, in 2021. One mural depicts a collage of brown bears, stacked together in various postures, surrounding the semblance of a Polaroid photograph of a conifer in a forest. The second mural, across the street, depicts a similar stack of whales — themselves framing a Polaroid of an iceberg on a placid sea. Each mural is framed by the building, which is further framed by the urban surround. The whales and bears become a part of Nancy, a small town in northeastern France with a proud heritage in metallurgy. This context, alongside the town’s Museum of Iron History which chronicles the development of blast furnaces and forges, raises implicit questions: Is a whale more natural than iron ore, or steel? Is whale oil more natural than petroleum, or plastic?

The two murals make up “a sort of photo album,” Nevercrew, as a duo, wrote to me, “a series of containers of different realities.” A photograph represents an act of possession, “a caging, a limitation,” but also a kind of preservation. Both murals are meant to spark the memory of something distant, bringing forward “a natural truth that reveals itself regardless of geographical position.”

More Online: See more of Nevercrew’s work at nevercrew.com

The natural truth is that we coexist, that out of sight need not mean out of mind. Nevercrew’s whales, painted against buildings, remind us of their true immensity, at least for a moment. But they remain enigmatic, even to the artists. “Since the beginning, while painting in different cities and in different regions of the world,” the two wrote, “we often had to answer to the same question: What does a whale have to do with here?”

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