Living off the grid is a concept that refers to living outside of a main transmission grid for electricity, but it can also imply living outside of “the system” and returning to nature. Many who have chosen to unplug themselves from the grid in recent years have been directly impacted by the latest financial crisis and a growing focus on environmental issues. These are the people that artist Lucas Foglia features in his project and the current exhibit at the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University.
A Natural Order is a series of photographs by the Brown alum, who was raised on a small farm on Long Island, amid the suburban sprawl. Growing up, Foglia’s extended family still heated their house with wood, completed early morning farm chores and utilized a bartering system. However, they started to see malls and housing developments encroach on their simple way of life. Technology eventually found its way into his home, and at one point he realized five computers were under his family’s roof.
When Foglia arrived at Brown in 2002, he took photographs for the Brown Daily Herald and majored in art semiotics, a degree that combines art with anthropology, literature and mass media. As an undergrad, he was already focusing his lens on people living alternative lifestyles resembling his childhood. Once out of Brown, Foglia pursued this project further throughout his time earning a master’s degree in photography at Yale.
From 2006 to 2010, Foglia traveled to various communes in different parts of the country. Foglia is not romanticizing his subjects in his photos; instead, he is providing insight into the lives of these people who have removed themselves from the traditional idea of civilization.
Many of the photos feature families at every stage: second trimester baby bellies, a mother teaching her daughter to shoot a rifle, a toddler bathing with her dad. This is not your traditional idea of a family with its white picket fence and 2.5 children. Commune families cooperate for a common goal, which is survival. One particularly haunting image is of a decomposing bear that looks more hu- man than animal; with so much focus on understanding what it looks like to deny a world with morning commutes and running water, we might forget the disturbing reality of what a “return to nature” actually looks like. Foglia will not let us forget.
A Natural Order is an important milestone for Foglia’s art. Many of the shows he has had in the past have been group shows highlighting excerpts of his current body of work. The Bell will be his first solo show and the first time he’s exhibiting this particular project. It will also be the launch of Foglia’s first professional artist book of the project by Nazraeli Press.
Foglia isn’t just “interested” or “fascinated” with the people in his pictures, instead, he immerses himself in these communities and becomes friends with his subjects. While it’s true that the photographs serve a documentary purpose, the series also feels like a love song from Foglia to his new friends on the other side of the fence.