Mid Altitude Raingrid, Nebraska State Public Utilities (S. Platte Precip. Co.) (2008), watercolor and ink

Jed Dunkerley's new paintings at Vermillion look like they're taken from future instruction manuals for the world. Nature is gone but things are more or less fine. Calmly and effectively, humans have created their own nature to replace what's gone. Wind, rain, and autumn foliage created by machines turn out to be pretty much the same as the old wind, rain, and autumn foliage. Weren't we looking for a WPA program? Here it is.

The bureaucratic tone of these little watercolors promises a different kind of environmental equilibrium, one that's weirdly undramatic. Things just don't seem much different than they are now—maybe because they're not. The fantasy of untouched nature has never been very interesting, so this is just a proposal of the alternative idea that there is no nature without human-based systems to generate it. In Dunkerley's view, the Columbia River still exists, but its headwaters come from enormous pipes, not the heaven-reaching tops of mountains. It is a godless idea; no wonder Dunkerley's childhood in the Bible Belt comes up in his artist statement.

A striking feature of these envisioned human systems is that they are governed, according to their titles, as often by private enterprise as by public utilities. Public and private seem equal partners in the environmental future projected here—which more than a frightening prospect or a 90s-style parody (days sponsored by diapers in Infinite Jest, for instance) feels simply real. The old divisions—public versus private, real versus fake—no longer apply.