Thursday, 29 September 2011

New Art Criticism_01_December 2008

New Art Criticism is no longer on-line, therefore I thought to copy and paste my contributions to the former website here. It is mostly exhibitions reviews and I hope you will enjoy the reading!


Wandering and rummaging about which show was worth reviewing in this cold winter, I must admit that the only spotting of the Nettie Horn website made me decide to come and see this one: the small, pixel-made images were showing drawings beautifully made, with what I call a superhuman skill to make the pencil strokes disappear in a foggy, perfect sfumato.

It looked like a plant in a drawing you might well see in a Victorian botanical etching, however the orchid spreads from a dissected heart, whilst little bird’s skulls grow within the flower’s place; this can be considered as being very odd. Why are artists so obsessed with death now, I thought. Then, recalling the old still lives, I corrected myself because they’ve actually always been.

However, what sparked my curiosity were the use of the birds. As soon as I entered the gallery space, I was surprised to find another kind of artwork I did not know about: three sculptures, or rather assemblages, in the form of a funeral wreath. Flowers, of course, were neatly arranged in a circle and in the form of a heart shape. Again here and there we have “intruders” such as human hands and stuffed birds peeping, holding objects such as broken spectacles, trinkets and even chocolate cookies, whose icing drips down the hand in perfectly frozen drops.

I just stare, realizing that I have to do with a fairly Queen of the Composition: nothing is left to chance, nothing is random. A painstaking work made of intricately crafted components. In another sculpture, two crows seem to be stuck on a black flower wreath invaded by busy bees, their honey leaking all over like viscous glue. The bees, birds and hands should ring some bell now. It is not only about death and a strange obsession with taxidermy, I can feel there is something else those works are trying to say. But for someone like me, oblivious of typical English language expressions, it is quite difficult to get hold of the hidden meaning without obtaining some clarification.

I learned from Marie Favier, curator of the show with Director Danielle Horn, that a “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. Excuse me? Ah, that is it…sexual meaning! We now enter the realm of language and its different expressions, ranging from one culture to another. Of course, the bees, the pollination…sex explained to children. The use of the orchid in the drawings evokes the ancient Greek belief that this plant sprung from the split semen of mating animals. There are then the skulls, Love and Death. Eros et Thanathos, no wonder Kate Street’s series of work is called “Little Death”, originating from the French term for orgasm “petite mort”.

We could go on for ages: Street uses words, proverbs and mythologies as a starting point to create sculptures and drawings tinged with a tongue-in-cheek approach to language. It is always interesting to see a young promising artist using something as simple as her own native language and turning it in something so complicated; imagery. Discomforted ones perhaps, which forces the individual to try and subvert the typical idea of romance into something far more intricate, perhaps beyond the usual classifications. It is familiar, yet extraneous at the same time. Those sculptures could seem an absurd baroque-style charade because sometimes that is what love longing can be. When desire is wasted, all is left is just a deep, aching sense of loss. How sad, simple and essential at the same time, though. If you are a fan of semantics and of the honourable art of cultural imagery, you will love Street’s work. Also, if you would like to see some not-too-cryptic contemporary art, you should definitely hit this show, which runs until the 21st of December.

End note: this first visit brought a further collaboration with Kate and a video work was proudly presented by me in a public museum, here

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