This year we introduced a film component to the work undertaken by our students, led by recent Graduate and former ASN artist in residence, Yulia Kovanova, and in collaboration with the Film & TV and Music departments here at the University of Edinburgh.
The theme was ‘fragility’ which engendered a strong environmental approach to the four wonderful films produced.
The films were screened as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival at a special event hosted by our good friends at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation.
Art, Space + Nature students were participants in this year’s BOOKMARKS artists book fair, held at Edinburgh College of Art. The annual event attracts hundreds of visitors and this is the fifth year ASN have participated.
The students develop works specifically for BOOKMARKS, which allows the opportunity to explore the format of the artists book as well as developing specific outputs, beyond the scope of the gallery.
At the start of April, ASN artist-in-residence Alix Villanueva held a show in the Tent Gallery as part of her residency, with sound composer Paul Koutselos and costume designer Zoë Grüber. The show explored the dual porous and enclosed qualities of gardens, alongside how they can be read as spaces of high creativity, especially for women, who across literature have been associated with, and bound to, enclosed gardens.
Upon entering the space, one is plunged into Koutselos’ soundscape, which starts off as watery, only to shift into Ghost Time, signalled by bells and a warping of the sound. Ghost Time is an imagined temporality that emerged out of a conversation between Paul and Alix, in which transgressions occur across realms, across what exists inside the rotting fruit, under the compost lid, alongside the cracks, inside repurposed bathtubs….
Ghost Time is an agitated-stillness, a still-agitation. A fomenting/fermenting ground. Water just before it boils. The soundscape, which loops the shift across Garden Time and Ghost Time, produces different readings of the space and artwork, but keeps the installation grounded inside the garden and at times pushes us out of the domestic feel of the work, of its pillows and book, drapes and clothes.
On the left hand side, just off the wall, sits an altar carrying a large triptych. The latter evokes the hortus conclusus triptychs that were present in nunneries, used as portable objects of worship. Within these depictions of hortus conclusus, each plant held symbolic weight associated to a corresponding virtue. There was often a fountain present in the painting, echoing Solomon’s comparison of his virtuous “beloved” to a sealed fountain and an enclosed garden. In Alix Villanueva’s triptych, invasive and poisonous plants such as Giant Hogweed exist alongside plants considered simultaneously to be “weeds” and healing plants depending on their context: Dandelions, Nettles, Broadleaf Plantain… The central panel holds a lonely bathtub, evoking the domestic re-cycling that happens within community gardens and referencing the garden in which the artist was in residency in the late autumn months of 2018, the POD’s CV5 allotment in Coventry. The bathtub holds the space of the traditional water-feature within the hortus conclusus, but it is stagnant and carries strong sensual references. These are explored in the ghostly text panels on the first wall on the right, through a text entitled “On Bathing”.
There is a strong sense of self-awareness within the triptych, but this self-awareness is fractured, fragmented, erased. A scratched-out self portrait on the right panel is sat opposite a decontextualised hand, holding secateurs and cutting the hair of a ghostly apparition in a mirror, on the left panel. This sense of fragmentation is a recurring theme throughout the installation: a small mirror sitting at eye-level of the viewer, a lonely charcoaled hand hung under a bough of ivy, recurring references to Bonnard’s photographs in which parts of his wife are obscured, a lonely hand opening rose-hips in the film “Bonnard, the Hand and the Maggot”…
On the left-hand side of the triptych, next to a dried and splattered rose-hip, a small funerary velvet pillow holds a fly and a bumblebee, facing each other. They are given an anthropomorphic post-mortem importance. The motif of the fly will come back a few times throughout the show, as a maggot in the film, as a series of dead flies in the book and at the bottom of the central panel of the triptych, maintaining the artist’s obsession with repetitive imagery. The death of the fly is important in that it is an image that culturally represents death, disease, uncleanliness… The importance given to the fly elevates it from this status and recognises it as a harbinger of new life that emerges out of death.
On the right-hand side of the altar, various seed-pods collected at the CV5 allotment are displayed on a small “bed of nails” made from cast-iron. At the first glance, it is unclear what purpose the object might hold, but it evokes objects for self-flagellation, carrying forward the theme of religious or spiritual devotion.
At the centre of the altar, in front of the triptych, an artist book is laid out on top of a cloth doily. The book appears to be about nothing in particular, noting things like strange weather events, a black and white photograph of the artist’s kitchen by candlelight, a drawing of a walnut tree, a list of different temporalities… It is fragmented and reads like a journal, but there is a coherence throughout with themes emerging such as death, loss, and a deep sense of self-awareness.
There is a black velvet pillow in front of the altar, inviting the viewer to kneel as they contemplate.
Further along the gallery space, on the left wall, one’s gaze is met by a spectral form. A collaboration between Zoë Grüber and Alix Villanueva, the garden shroud stands on its hanger, far from the wall on a clothes horse evoking Edinburgh tenement-style drying racks, with their thin white ropes. The shroud holds space like some sort of ghost or spectre, but offers the viewer a sense of soft domesticity. It is made of porous muslin, with attaches all down the front, ready to receive a body and carry it across to the Other World.
Beyond the shroud, and on the ledge, off to the left, a steel cooking pot sits, lid open, containing ivy, baby’s tears, or helxin soleirolii, and drops of lavender oil. The pot as a choice of vessel is an allusion to the interesting relationship between allotments and re-purposed domestic objects. The garden, as a space, teeters between a domestic and wild space, populated by what we recognise as Nature, and yet patrolled and controlled by the hand of man and woman. Above the pot, a charcoaled hand seems to be reaching in. It does not have a body.
In the far right corner of the gallery, in the windowed alcove, another black velvet pillow beckons the viewer to sit. When in position, the person is sheltered from view, with muslin curtains blocking off the outside world on the right. The only thing the person can focus on is a fragment of themselves that appears in the small hand-mirror attached to the wall and the projected video playing on a loop.
The film, entitled “Bonnard, the Hand and the Maggot”, is a senseless, eccentric story in which a protagonist, of which we only ever see the hand, enters a sort of dance with the French artist Pierre Bonnard around a garden, whilst looking for the latter’s wife, Marthe. The relationship between Pierre and Marthe Bonnard is a fascinating one for Alix, for in the literature around the male artist’s life, Marthe is either portrayed as a negative influence, as the cause for his isolation and, therefore, fascination for interiors or as a lifeless corpse that Bonnard has either decapitated in his photography or lain, insentient and Ophelia-like, at the bottom of a bathtub. She is never given any agency, within the literature written about the Bonnards, as a woman and artist.
The film touches upon the exhibition’s recurring themes, such as the creative and fruitful relationship between death and life (as seen through the maggot dance), fragmentation of the self and the body (as seen through the decontextualised hands and use of mirrors, as well as the photographs of Marthe), and the relationship between interior and exterior spaces, domesticity and wilderness (in the way windows are created within the garden, and strange, black velvet backdrops merge with gardenly processes such as decomposition). The film exists on a loop and is shorter than Koutselos’ sound piece, giving each viewing a different feel, depending on what segments are viewed in Garden Time and what segments are viewed in Ghost Time.
Upon the right-hand wall, the viewer is met by three large format pieces of cream paper. When one gets closer, one can begin to see text appearing. It is ghostly and evasive, with certain words manifesting in shades darker than others. The writing, in its form, engages the reader in a feat of active reading, deciphering the fading text. It is evocative of the faded engravings one can find in cemeteries, on moss-covered tomb-stones. The text is entitled “On Bathing” and follows Alix’s personal relationship with bathtubs and bathing. It reads like a train of thought, an exploration structured around the act of encountering the bathtubs at the CV5 allotment, in real tangible time, and all the strands of thought such an encounter has provoked.
Hortus porosus is an on-going project testing the boundaries of the garden as a zone of simultaneous enclosure and porosity, teetering between control and wilderness. Future manifestations of it are projected to appear in the coming months, notably in the form of a further audio-visual collaboration between Alix Villanueva and Paul Koutselos.
Last year MFA graduate and current ASN Artist-in Residence, Russel Beard, was part of a
team that won the Silver Medal in the World category at the recent New York Film Festival.
The film, ‘EARTHRISE : WINDS OF CHANGE’ was presented by Russell and was screened on Al Jazeera Television.
It is about the island of Samsö, in Denmark, becoming world leaders in renewable energy.
Islanders have a negative 3 tonne carbon footprint and thanks to a network of engineers,
artists and designers the energy academy is creating a global archipelago of resilient
communities in 29 countries based on energy sovereignty, creativity and cooperation.
MYTERIALS/ ECOSPACE is an interdisciplinary, collaborative work by ASN student, Luis Guzmán and biologist Laura Turpeinen.
Based in the speculative future of the interaction between Fungi and robotics for the production of sustainable biomaterials. The installation included a prototype for carbon capture that operates due to the incrementation of biodiversity. The system is designed to grow fungi and plants in the gallery space, allowing the audience to observe the intimate ecological interactions between species. A third piece presented in this opportunity is a documented video based on the archive of mycologist Patrick Hickey that shows the world of fungi with an amazing detail and quality.
The Biennale curated by Lisa White titled ‘EU, VOUS, NOUS’, reflects on the integration of social, natural and technological networks, under the claim “Systems not stuff”.
The exhibition, which will receive an audience of 200,000 visitors, is open until the 22nd of this month at Cité du Design of Saint Etienne, France.
Art, Space + Nature students have just held a major exhibition at Stornoway’s An Lanntair Gallery http://lanntair.com
This follows our fieldtrip to Lewis and Harris, undertaken last year as well as considerable research and studio development.
It is always a challenge to present back to an audience works, which speak about their cultural and physical landscape. This year, the exhibition brought insight to the audience across a range of highly developed works, presented in a professional manner. It is a credit to the works developed, not only this year, that our programme can command an exhibition of student work at such a prestigious venue.
The exhibition was visited by Amanda Catto, Head of Visual Arts at Creative Scotland. Amanda commented: “I think the exhibition is really well done. A good range of well-considered and engaging work”
As part of ongoing practice-led research, Natalia Bezerra presented a body of new work, exploring the complex relationship between our actions and the natural world, in a solo exhibition in Tent Gallery.
Rising concerns on the global climate crisis in a time of increasing socio-cultural complexity forms the basis of Natalia’s research. Her interests examine this complexity in our increasingly interconnected societies and their paradoxical relationship of division and union with the natural world, principally through a linear language.
In BOUND, what appear to be merely tree branches suspended in the gallery, at first glance, are the charred remains of twelve branches tightly entwined with wire, having been burned in a fire. Upon closer examination, the burnt remnants trapped within the wire, as well as the gaps present in these forms start to become recognizable. Moving around the installation provides the viewer with different perspectives of the work, with its linear qualities always intersecting regardless of where one’s standing – it is a form of three-dimensional drawing, developed in response to the increasing prevalence of catastrophic wildfires and deforestation threats.
Natalia seeks to challenge assumptions about our inability to combat the effects of climate change, bringing into question humanity’s tendency to create both physical and mental barriers in our interconnected world.
Inspired by the complex linear language found in tree canopies during a residency at Pishwanton Wood, near Edinburgh, Natalia sought to represent the interconnectedness among all living and non-living beings and systems. The perceived intersecting linear qualities of Bound are representative of this interconnectivity; however, the actual fragmented nature of the work presents the viewer with our disassociated awareness in the face of environmental catastrophe.
Her choice for using wire in the work is due to the material’s widespread use in creating boundaries — physical barriers across the landscape that divide ourselves from the rest of life. The processes of entwining and burning, as well as the confined configuration of the work itself, become emblematic of humanity’s impact in our ecological entanglement.
Adjacent to BOUND was the sculpture,CIVILISED, a plinth wrapped in branches of decay left over from the fire. One’s focus on these lines, mapped onto the plinth begins to unravel a map of Edinburgh’s road network. These networks run downward towards a mound of carbon, signaling the destructive aspects of civilisation’s advancement. This work, in conjunction with BOUND, shows the impact our actions not only have on the natural world, but also on ourselves.
A further projected work, MOSAICS, was exhibited in the cinema space, which depicted a subtly changing series of images of a figure in a woodland. Shadows depicting the linear language of the woods become darker and darker, appearing vein-like on the subject. The human eventually becomes unrecognizable; her individual identity is lost as she becomes completely entangled in these networks.
MOSAICS, which was a collaboration with fellow ASN student, Audrey Yeo, explored the human identity within the ecological entanglement. The gradual development of the time-lapse piece signals a merging with the landscape — the sought intimate union between humanity and the natural world. The work lends itself to notions of Queer Ecology, bringing into question how we distinguish ourselves as humans from nonhumans if our existence is dependent on relationality (T. Morton). The intimacy of this experience, which is only possible through direct observation and engagement with the natural world, introduces a sense of empathy and renewal, necessary during times of ecological catastrophe.