ASN artist-in-residence, Alix Villanueva, is part of an exhibition running from mid-January to mid-March, alongside three other artists. In this exhibition curated by Wendy Law, the four female artists investigate and uncover managed histories, strange landscapes and the power of myth-making and folklore. The artists research, re-claim, reveal and re-present semi imagined old pasts, new futures, and truth.
In the exhibition, Alix Villanueva exhibits her new film A Garden Phenomenology, as well as other works including costumes, hand-crafted ceremonial brushes, writing, curiosity cabinets…
The term `cosmoecology’ is adopted by Villanueva as a way of making space for the unknowns arising from our age of great political and environmental uncertainty. Villanueva’s art embodies the co-existence of her own personal experiences of the world with the larger landscape and notions of the cosmos such as mythology, gods, folklore, ghosts, death, and after-death.
A muslin shroud-like garment hangs from a domestic clotheshorse. A collection of ceremonial brushes are created from the artist’s own hair and objects gleaned from the Scottish shoreline.
In the accompanying soundscape, sound designer Paul Koutselos internalises the liminal space between mind, body, interior and garden.
In Villanueva’s short collage film Bonnard, the Hand and the Maggot, the protagonist, of whom we only ever see the hand, leads artist Pierre Bonnard in a dance around a garden, looking for the latter’s wife, Marthe. The film uses collage techniques to touch upon themes such as the creative and fruitful relationship between death and life, the fragmentation of the self and the body, and the relationship between interior and exterior spaces. Villanueva believes that Marthe Bonnard (known in the arts as Marthe Méligny) is given little agency as a woman and artist: in writings about the Bonnards,’ Marthe tends to be portrayed as either a negative influence on Bonnard as an early modernist painter, confining him to interior scenes, or portrayed as a lifeless corpse, Ophelia-like in a bathtub and decapitated in his garden photography.
For Villanueva, the garden is a zone of simultaneous enclosure and porosity, of decay and fruitfulness. In her film A Garden Phenomenology, Villanueva considers ways in which our bodies are the primary point of contact with the world around us, by going through each of the five senses. This work, informed by the medieval tapestries “La Dame à la Licorne”, also investigates a possible sixth sense through the poetry of the garden, the insistence of ritual, and a different way of letting things grow.
Further along the exhibition space, two cabinets stand side by side, holding fragments of rituals. Ritual and ceremony have an important role in Villanueva’s work. In her ritual ‘Gleaning Ghosts,’ Villanueva walked along the banks of the River Almond to Cramond Island wearing her hand-crafted ‘landscapes skirt’ to which she tied the rocks she had gathered along the way. The too long skirt became heavier, a test of resilience, dragging the artist along while the material, like a canvas, charted each interaction between her body and the environment.
In A Healing at Cramond, Villanueva entered the cold sea wearing her hand-crafted ritual gown, both hospital robe and folkloric costume. Through this ritual Villanueva attempted to understand the lasting aches of chronic pain through holisticity, calling to folklore for answers. It is Cailleach Bhéara, the hag, the healer, the witch figure, who points out the disharmonies between this world and the Otherworld, the sacred natural, which are thought to be the root cause of ill-health in our realm.
As part of the exhibition, Alix Villanueva was also invited to speak about her work through SPIN, a contemporary art programme run by the National Galleries of Scotland.
She will also be part-taking in the discussion event ‘The Women We Know’, marking International Women’s Day and contextualising women and the arts, through the focus of the exhibition Mount Strange and the Temple of Fame.