Review: “Sensual Nature”, various artists ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·
Featuring works by twelve Australian artists, “Sensual Nature” explores our sensorial engagement with nature, considering the ways we perceive, interpret and project onto our natural environment.
Developed from an idea by Lia McKnight and curated by Dr Ric Spencer, the exhibition examines our participation in nature through the lens of personal bodily experiences, whether it be the common impulse to collect stones or fallen flowers, or our role as hosts to internal parasites.
The skilled craftsmanship of all participating artists encourages our sustained contemplation, with the majority of the works featuring a fine, sometimes hypnotic level of detail, from the delicate stippling technique used in the drawings of Tane Andrews, to the carefully stitched face of Nalda Searles’ life-size Hay Skull.
With an emphasis on materiality, the small-scale sculptural works each have a directly relatable physical presence – it’s easy to imagine running your fingers over their surfaces, or fitting the objects neatly into your hands (but remember, don’t actually touch the art).
The sensuality of “Sensual Nature” sometimes involves eroticism, although without an “ecosexual” explicitness – there is the playful innuendo of Julia Robinson’s strange gourds, and the camp beauty of Andrew Nicholls’ reclining male nudes.
Other works simultaneously inspire a sense of mild repulsion, such as Juz Kitson’s Life and everything in-between (2017), a seductively lush yet disturbing pastel assemblage of scrotum-esque blown glass, fox pelt, porcelain scales, boar tusks and more. For an exhibition encouraging “sensory immersion”, the addition of an audiovisual work or similarly lavish large-scale installation would also have been welcome.
There is a subtle corporeal intimacy to Spellbound (2018), Holly Story’s suspended line of banksia flowers. Wrapped in silk organza, the flower heads have been tightly sewn into bulging packages, with their stems pressed down like coarse hair under stockings.
In another mixed media work, Sixteen chambers with velvet upholstery (2014), Nalda Searles has used finely stitched velvet to clothe semi-hollowed roots found in the process of bardi (grub) collecting by Aboriginal women. Such a decadent fabric highlights the sinuous forms of the roots, endowing the natural debris of food gathering with a higher significance. Once temporarily valued for their now-eaten contents, these remodelled roots become established as “artefacts”, and encourage new associations with ritual and the uncanny.
The works of Sarah Elson similarly elevate and transform organic matter as she collects soft, fragile plant materials before casting them in molten metal. In Elson’s exhibited works the pollinating lips of orchids are collated and reborn in a spine-like chain, while a series of wilting flower buds are transformed into durable, sharp weapons designed for a “new ecology”.
Delving into ideas of environmentalism, decolonisation, and anthropocentrism, “Sensual Nature” presents our natural environment as evocative and fertile grounds for artistic contemplation, and encourages us to examine our subconscious associations with, and sensuous experience of, the living world.
Pictured top: Holly Story, “Spellbound” (detail), 2018, variable, Banksia grandis flowers, plant dyed silk organza, silk thread, plywood, xanthorroea, resin and acrylic paint. Photo: Jessica Wyld.