Human/Nature is an exhibition that examines nature, human nature and how the two correspond. People, either as a present force or an inference, play a prominent role in many of these works, as does the natural world, portrayed through landscape, trees, and man-made or manipulated representations of nature.
With an artistic oeuvre that includes sculpture, performance art and photography Di ffrench’s photographs often inhabit the realm of all of these practices, with her torsos simultaneously alluding to flesh and stone; the human form and classical sculpture. The luminosity of the figures in her photographs and the black depths from which they emerge, is reminiscent of the Dutch masters, Rembrandt and Vermeer. This chiaroscuro effect is heightened through the cibachrome medium as external light reflects onto the image.
Julie Firth’s artistic images, often containing figures, props and theatrical backdrops, have a theatrical feeling with a feminist edge. Her process is deeply subjective with a strong narrative element running through her images utilising the language of visual symbols to explore issues of universal concern such as love/hate, guilt/innocence, and longing/loathing.
Christine Webster’s le Dossier series interrogates the line between eroticism and pornography with provocative images of women in confronting poses. Viewer becomes voyeur as they take in scenes of frontal nudity in unsettling surrounds. Far from the vacuous expressions of fashion and exotic models, the psychological state of the figures is manifest in pose and expression. Vulnerability, uncertainty, passivity, pain, strength can be read in the series of images.
Even where figures are absent, human presence can be felt in what remains. Mark Smith’s Call Waiting has the appearance of an office in a time capsule, antiquated telephones line up waiting to be answered on a well-worn desk, behind which one can imagine a familiar dip in the seat of the vinyl chair. The title of the photograph and the twin phones in the image create a sense of anticipation, a scene frozen on the cusp of action. With Mark’s work, Forever Young, in death it appears, life springs eternal for the three taxidermy deer. In a contrived reflection of nature, two deer pose intimately together under white cloth, questioning the way we infer human emotions on the animal kingdom, and, in this case, even inanimate objects.
We move from faux flowers to hoax horses when Paul Hartigan depicts Princess Helena Hussy, a large fibreglass horse on the roof of a Levin equestrian store. Through the title and the nature in which the artist presents the object an anthropomorphic story evolves in the viewers mind. Draped in a lurid fluorescent pink, Helena teeters between the lines of silver-screen goddess and High Street whore. The tilted perspective looking up at the horse exaggerates her regal presence, while the green of the deco building above which she lords glints off her shiny black coat. She is beautiful and brash with a cheeky edge. She has character that belies her hollow interior.
Grahame Sydney’s photographs are unmistakably a reflection of the aesthetic sensibilities found in his painting, engendered by a barren, vast landscape that is punctuated with small remnants of human occupation. The limited ‘palette’ of the Antarctic makes for delicate shifts in tones as ice meets sky on the horizon line. Nowhere is the impermanence of humanity in the face of nature more felt than the Antarctic, and Sydney captures this with the same subtlety with which he approaches his painting.