Thursday, December 3, 2009

Morbid Nature

Blatherwick, Hay and King at Art Mur

The three collections by these very different artists were thematically united by their attempts to examine death in nature and the nature of death. Each approached this morbidity in a unique manner but all were united in making clear that death and the forms of nature were so intimately entwined that nature essentially is what gives death form. Beyond that, there is only surface.

David Blatherwick - Drifting

"The new work of David Blatherwick echoes the pathology of a virus and the abject fascination it engenders through the visualization of its structure. The role of the microscopic at once distances the reality of the self from the body while concurrently effectuating the very cellular processes in view, acting as a feral reminder of a site of limitless expansion, threat and creation. The task of the painter in a world defined by technology is to re-codify the medium: to be a reflective foil to a world surrounding itself. These new works situate the limits of painting, but they are limits that are singularly defined by a function of proximity and perception."

A set of brightly coloured oil paintings with smooth surfaces. They were toyingly decorative given their morbid bent. In fact, this element of them was what provided them with their most compelling quality. The depiction of inhuman life forms which break down the human form in the guise of relatively inoffensive, nearly florid paintings, provided them with a hushed perversity. Next to Blatherwick's paintings was an installation ("Porous Wall") which featured cupped indentations burrowed into the wall from which blue pigment spilled down to the floor into little granule puddles. I coughed looking at them. By the time I left the gallery, my swine flu had begun to take over.

Holly King
- Mangroves: Floating Between Two Worlds

"Canadian photographer Holly King’s Mangrove series is an investigation into the artist’s own subconscious. The photographs border on the uncanny, although never uncomfortably so. Instead, her preternatural compositions engage the viewer’s curiosity – the viewer is not sure how to approach, and yet is drawn to do so. At times the images are reflective, occasionally disquieting and always thought provoking. The twisted roots of the mangrove forests that form the base of this series provide an entry point for an investigation into the shadowy parts of the artist’s imagination."

King's photos of forests and pools of water, each with a distinct hue to set them apart, managed to do a remarkable job in creating a surface which was florid in its morbidity. The fractured pull of focus and the disparities between points of density in the images, the manner in which details skid across opaque lumps of information, all contributed to create a complicated surface. The black in the images are not repositories of depth, but porous areas like the water. The brush is then reflected in the water, stranded trees were diffused, doubled and decaying on the surface. The surface of the pictures themselves spit out the viewer, not allowing them entrance. Even the reeds and branches which fill the shots function like bars, made more disturbing by the fact that they seemed to come from, and go, nowhere, their lines caving into their own reflections. They affected space less than rubbed against the eye aggressively. The details in the images manage to have a quality in their grain which is closer to a sketch than what one would usually find in a photo.

Sherri Hay - The place where you live is lit by the sun

"Hay is known for her disaster globes, 5-inch snow globes, transparent spheres filled with both attached and free-floating white polystyrene cut into buildings and highways. When shaken, the tiny people trapped inside fall to their dismal fates, cars spin through the air and silently crash, enacting calamities that we bear witness to and hear about secondhand. We are left to construct their micro-narratives. In this exhibition, entitled The place where you live is lit by the sun, Hay’s work moves further from the familiar. A 2-foot Plexiglas square box holding water is reminiscent of the disaster globes in its materials and movement, but is slightly more abstract and much more hopeful. Beads of condensation drip down the inside of the container in tiny rivulets, and suggest potential regeneration in the form of a small, safe ecosystem."

One of the things which stands out the most in Hay's work on display is the violence of grass. Often a sharp, black substance which pokes up in a field of threatening chaos, the blade of grass really functions as a blade: A pointed article (rather an object) in a world without mouths. The figures in her work don't have mouths. Flowers often blossom from their heads, operating as detachable organs. Environment rapes the body. The bodies seem to grow from the snow by the power of a black sun. The use of stark contrast in the miniatures manages to achieve something rather surprising by retaining the extremity of the tonal differentiation, only to exploit it in a unique way. Black or white fields become soft, supple and,seemingly impenetrable, only to be ruptured. The extreme balancing act allows for a perverse fragility, one which is accented by the rigorous application of design principles and an indecipherable sense of humour. An odd laugh, perhaps even an innocent one. A laugh which can never be heard.

Also intriguing was the superimposition of an installation piece with her disarming miniatures. A raked field of black tissue grasses suspended on a multitude of small stilts against a painted wall. But more curious was a sculpture propped up at eye height. Fashioned from a set of wigs of varying lengths, they formed a black nest which strayed down toward the floor, stopping short and hovering in mid-air. It was a kind of macabre joke on a glamorous gesture, beheaded and left in limbo.

David Blatherwick
Sherri Hay

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