Over Nature exhibition review by a Mullingar Art Student | news | Athlone Arts and Tourism

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Over Nature exhibition review by a Mullingar Art Student

Over Nature curated by Valeria Ceregini at Luan Gallery Athlone

We are delighted to share an informative and engaging review on our current behind the doors, exhibition Over Nature, by Mullingar Art student, Jessica Daly, who visited Luan Gallery on the opening day of the exhibition.

"I visited the exhibition Over Nature when it opened in Luan Gallery on the 26th of September.

The exhibition is curated by Valeria Ceregini, an Italian art historian, visual art curator, and critic. Her practice 'investigates the etymological meaning of words, artworks, vernacular traditions, social and cultural situations' (valeriaceregini.com). The exhibition features the work of six artists: Shane Finan, Beata Piekarska-Daly, Mary O'Connor, Louis Haugh, Guillaume Combal, and Kathy Herbert. 

An environmental concern links the diverse practices of these artists as they seek to explore the relationship between humans and nature.

For this exhibition Finan has contributed a video installation and a series of paintings titled 'in áit'. The paintings were made outdoors, or en plein air - a tradition that is typically associated with Impressionism, but used today can carry new meaning.

Artists have faced many challenges because of the pandemic. They are expected to work from home usually without the proper facilities or space needed to realise their art. As the environment where an artwork is made partly dictates it, especially in relation to its material and size, new artistic methods must be developed over the coming months to reflect these restricted working conditions.

The pandemic has also brought with it an intense sense of isolation. During the lockdown this spring I was grateful to have a garden I could escape to and, like many others, I began growing vegetables. Observing how my lettuce seedlings would respond to the ways I cared for them led me to consider relationships other than the human-to-human sort, and in a time of social distancing appreciating these wider relationships can be an invaluable source of company.

In reaction to the COVID restrictions Finan has revitalised plein air painting. It is an approach that solves the space issue of home studios and, by encouraging direct experience with nature, may increase artists' interest in environmental issues.

In Combal's installation 'Ubiquity' two photographs are projected on opposing walls. Each image shows a landscape viewed from inside a tunnel with its dark walls framing the scene like a vignette.

Slightly hindering the view are two cameras set on tripods, as they are facing each other it would seem that the camera shown on the right was used to capture the left image and vice versa. 

The photographs were taken in different locations but the suggestion that a continuity exists between them stretches the tunnel across the walls of the gallery, enveloping the viewer under its imaginary roof. Placed here, between worlds, the viewer is truly ubiquitous.

Using a simple approach Combal has proposed an expanded definition of space; it need not be confined to the physical, invisible spaces such as the emotional space that exists between people are every bit as real.

The four works by Herbert, which all have a connection with water, are fittingly displayed in the River Gallery at Luan. It is apparent by the investigatory style of the pieces that the artist has a natural curiosity which she attempts to satisfy through her art.

'Dodder Walking Book' is a collection of observations while walking along the River Dodder in Co. Dublin. It seems little escapes the artist's attention as she records, through notes and drawings, the people and wildlife she encounters, maps of the river, signposts, and fragments of sky seen through tree branches.

In 'River drawing' a group of small waves proceed down the page uniformly until they begin to eddy into a cluster of lines, moving from realism into interpretation. 'Sampling' closely resembles a scientific study. Small glass bottles containing water are arranged in a row, labels tied around each of their necks explain when and where they were filled. A second label shows the sample as it appears under a microscope, calling attention to the micro plastic pollution of our water. Although following scientific methods Herbert still finds room to express anecdotal information — the Londonbridge bottle reads, 'Tide out. Sunny. Swan sleeping.'

In her final piece, 'This is not a river', the subjectivity of experience is again expressed. A series of photographs depicting the River Dodder are displayed on the gallery wall. The rounded corners and small size of these pictures suggest that they were captured using a phone. The title — a reference to René Magritte's 'The Treachery of Images' — reminds us that what we see is not a river, but a photograph of a river. Viewing nature through a device changes our perception of it, we are put at a distance from reality with the phone acting as mediator, cropping the world and flattening it into pixels.

Herbert is acutely aware that experience is not fixed or replicable, the identity of the subject influences how he/she sees the world. This allows us to form a unique connection to our surroundings but, as we are warned in 'This is not a river', it can also lead to subjugation.

In this exhibition Piekarska-Daly presents a series of her paintings and four soap sculptures titled 'Manus Lavo'. The textures used in the untitled gold-leaf paintings resemble organic formations — cracks on dry earth, mycelium, mussidae coral. One almost expects the forms to move and grow, the canvases being like large petri dishes, but beneath their apparent independence Piekarska-Daly remains fully in control.

The gold leaf compositions are pleasingly structured: there is a central division, similar to a horizon line, with the dense forms falling below and the lighter remaining above. This contrast creates a sense of depth within the abstraction.

Likewise the distribution of colour is carefully considered. A cluster of green at the bottom of the canvas is balanced by a stroke of the same colour near the top. Patches of gold break through dark areas of paint, lightening its oppressive weight. Colour holds the disparate elements together. But what I find most captivating about these paintings are their textures. The surface intertwines paint that is glossy and coarse, dappled and splashed, blended and flat — displaying the full diversity of the medium as well as Piekarska-Daly's technical mastery.

The works by O'Connor include a group of silkscreen prints, called the 'Sunrise sunset series', and three paintings from her 'Flux and Flow' series. The paintings are a celebration of life, much like the work of Piekarska-Daly, differing however in that the paintings of O'Connor represent life, whereas the surface of Piekarska-Daly's paintings imitate life.

As their title suggests the 'Flux and Flow' paintings present movement — dotted lines transverse the image like trails marked on a map, or air currents on a diagram, and circles seem to drift across like clouds. Although the images bustle with life, the rounded shapes and fluorescent blues induce the same calming effect as staring into a lava lamp. O'Connor writes that her travels to New Zealand, Belize, and Kazakhstan have been a source of inspiration for her work, this offers an explanation as for why these paintings feel like landscapes.

Above all the series expresses a feeling of interconnectedness. The trail of some lifeform bisects that of another, shapes overlap, and all are part of one overarching system — the very definition of ecology.

Haugh has produced black and white photographs of twigs and pine cones, which he titles'Needles', and a video installation, 'Radio Tree Antenna'. The video opens on a tree trembling in the breeze and the sound of birds chirping, but their song is soon interrupted by an opera singer's voice emerging from static.

The tree chosen by Haugh is the Sitka Spruce, a non-native species that was introduced to Ireland in the early nineteenth century. It has been planted abundantly because of its fast-growth, the timber industry (unsurprisingly) heedless of the damage it has caused to the island's biodiversity.

Transforming the Sitka Spruce into an antenna, as Haugh has done, is yet another way of exploiting nature for our own purposes. In humanity's insatiable need to conquer, adapt and ultimately monetise nature we have shaped the environment to suit us, cultivating species of 'value' and discarding the rest.

Over Nature is a much needed reminder of the threats facing our planet, yet the exhibition never becomes didactic or overbearing. 

There is even a sense that some of the pieces were never intended as environmental statements, rather that the artist made them out of an appreciation for nature and an anxiety seeped through unconsciously. But the fact that the work is nuanced only adds to its strength, if we are to tackle the damage being done to the planet effectively we must first understand the complexity of our relationship to it.cf

More information on the exhibition can be found on Luan gallery's instagram page: www.instagram.com/luangalleryathlone"