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Exploring nature’s borderlines

Review by Giuseppe Marasco

A new film by Sean Vicary is emblematic of a 21st century approach to art and nature. The film is part of (Un)natural Narratives, Fiona MacDonald’s presentation of three young artists at Hoxton’s Standpoint Gallery.

Edwina fitzPatrick, Eleanor Morgan and Sean Vicary are fruitfully concerned with the field of the living, following the surge of ‘new nature writing’ on ecology, biodiversity and biophilia, positioning itself on meditating on a 'decentred world'.

These ideas afford artists and the wider public new ways of looking at the environment by reformulating a diverse field that includes Landscape Art, Eco Art and many other new permutations, fresh realignments and compositions.  

(Un)natural NarrativesIn this view, 'otherness' is conceived as non-human agents, animal and non-animal. Such a project seeks to de-centre language from the human subject to exploring the interior 'language' of these non-human agents. This re-imagining is most productive and dynamic in its ability to break away from a static notion of the environment.

Reference is made to Jane Bennett and TJ Demos. Jane Bennett is a political theorist renowned for her work on nature, ethics and affect, who shifts the focus from the human experience of things to things themselves. TJ Demos is Reader in Modern and Contemporary Art at University College London, who views ecology as ‘a field of interlinking systems of biodiversity and technology, social practices and political structures'. 

The fresh turn that art is now taking is one that allows the eco-system to push back anthropocentrism, whilst recording complex forms of movement and changing spaces. 

Sean Vicary’s film Lament was shot on the Welsh borderlands. It short-circuits the romantic gaze with its sedimentation of meaning.  Attention is focused on the endless making going on in the landscape.

It breaks from the traditional vanishing point of the Romantic gaze with an assortment of site-specific found objects, which turn close up, mirco and macro in the same frame. The turning object breaks the traditional vanishing point, emitting radial spatial distortion and constantly renewing itself.

(Un)natural Narratives
Sean Vicary Lament Film Still

This animated rotation changes how we gaze upon a snail shell, a single found mummified frog – and then all three of them seemingly dance. A heart made from two rotting apples, with rolled leaves forming ventricle beats. Then a skeletal rabbit returns with the heart in its skeletal rib cage. It appears that the heart of the landscape is in this beating heart of putrefaction.

There is also a refreshing comedic element to the frogs – children were utterly rapt with the film’s joyous – even Mexican – sense of celebration (when the film was shown at the yearly Shoreham country festival, curated by Fiona MacDonald).

Vicary has a particular concern with finding the locus genii – the spirit of place of a landscape – and I suggest that the way wind blows on a certain day is an example of the challenge of showing extra dimensions and shifting coordinates.  

Concepts of growth, meaning and movement are inspired by the systems found in the biosphere and the abundant materials of the country become the very materials of the imagination.

Vicary grew up on the Welsh borders, the very point of crossing over, where physically as well as psycho-culturally the land notably changes. He goes into the land on certain days and returns without a single shot, having been immersed in thought and stillness, fascinated\enchanted by how everything exists simultaneously on different time scales. He is interested in the idea of 're-wilding', in the archaeology of a land, and is currently fascinated by local burial mounds.

It is a move away from a projected, enclosed and mono-directional approach to looking at interrelated networks and making that goes on in the land. It involves accessing more than one person, more layers of time, and more than one type of agent, affecting the material of a landscape, and all of these elements sourced locally, of there, rather than projected on to the land from the outside.

Fiona is excited by the work of writer and co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project, Paul Kingsnorth. The issues up for discussion are:

what we have lost, and are starting to forget that we have lost; post-nature ecology; what challenges to global capital are thinkable; vital materialism; what embracing despair can offer; logos versus mythos; what place art/writing/music can hold in ecological thinking and action; and how rational human beings may be.

Edwina fitzPatrick
Edwina fitzPatrick

Amongst the other artists taking part in (Un)natural Narratives is Edwina fitzPatrick, who explores the intersection between 'grey' and 'green', and the affects of human interactions on the nature/culture/ecology of place. Her projects also reflect upon how climate change may affect this delicate balance. She often collaborates with experts across a range of disciplines, including horticulturalists, biodiversity experts, engineers, architects, perfumers, foresters, archivists and composers. 

Edwina's new piece suggests that the green environment is a landscape-archive. Wood for the Trees embeds miniature forests into an old encyclopaedia – placing together natural landscape and the historically and politically determined nature of  ‘wild’ spaces in the UK. 

Eleanor Morgan
Eleanor Morgan

Eleanor Morgan travelled to Folly Island off South Carolina in 2010, to create a golden ring from the silk of a local spider. She was following up the tale of a soldier stationed there during the American Civil war who discovered the spider, created a machine to spin the silk into jewellery, and sold it as real gold. Displayed  are a small selection of her ongoing projects into islands – follies, searching and fantasies. A lithographed island-table and a video depicts her peculiar transformation into an undersea creature: "The entangled processes of human and nonhuman animals.”

14 February 2014

(Un)natural Narratives runs until Saturday 15 February at the Standpoint Gallery, 45 Coronet Street, London N1 6HD.

Paul Kingsnorth will be in discussion with the artists at 4pm on Saturday 15th February

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