Holly Story, Spellbound (detail), 2018, variable, Banksia grandis flowers, plant dyed silk organza, silk thread, plywood, xanthorroea, resin and acrylic paint. Photography by Jessica Wyld_preview
Drawing, Mixed media, News, Reviews, Sculpture, Visual arts

Seductive and sensual

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.

Sarah Elson, "weapons for a new ecology".
In Sarah Elson’s exhibited works a series of wilting flower buds are transformed into durable, sharp weapons designed for a “new ecology”.

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.

“Sensual Nature” runs until May 20.

Read Seesaw’s interview with “Sensual Nature” artist Lia McKnight.

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.

Please follow and like us:
April 18, Calendar, March 18, May 18

Visual arts: Sensual Nature

Opening 28 March, 6:30pm, Running 29 Mar — 20 May 2018 @ Fremantle Arts centre ·
Presented by Fremantle Arts Centre ·

Tane Andrews, Untitled, 2016, white marble and sterling silver, 23 x 10 x 8 cm. Photography by Anna Pogossova.Sensual Nature is a sensory immersion into work derived from natural forms. The exhibition includes sculptural, tactile and seductive work inspired by nature, bringing to the fore organic forms that lurk beneath the conscious mind, wrapped in suppressed desires and fears.

Sensual Nature brings together twelve artists whose work simultaneously seduces and refuses through materialism, drawing on our need for nature while nonetheless always aestheticising it.

More info: fac.org.au
Email: artscentre@fremantle.wa.gov.au

Pictured: Tane Andrews, Untitled, 2016, white marble and sterling silver, 23 x 10 x 8 cm. Photography by Anna Pogossova.

Please follow and like us:
Lia McKnight
Drawing, Features, News, Sculpture, Visual arts

Close to home

Finding sensuality in organic objects is one of the central ideas behind “Sensual Nature”, an exhibition that opens at Fremantle Arts Centre, March 29. It’s a concept that comes from one of the 12 artists whose work is featured in the exhibition, WA’s Lia McKnight. A curator as well as an artist, McKnight tells Seesaw’s Nina Levy more about her career in the arts and the ideas that drive her work.

Lia McKnight, Follic #2, 2018, ink, graphite and pencil on paper, 28.5 x 19 cm
‘I spoke about the sensual experience of objects and ways in which imagery of natural or organic forms can connect to the subconscious, the erotic and the uncanny.’ Lia McKnight, ‘Follic #2’, 2018, ink, graphite and pencil on paper, 28.5 x 19 cm.

Nina Levy: Is it challenging being a curator but also finding time to make your own work?
Lia McKnight: Yes, it’s very difficult to find the creative energy and the time to do both. For that reason, I made a choice many years ago not to take on projects as an independent curator – it was just too hard to have a family, a job, curate shows AND be an artist. I have been fortunate to be able to curate (or co-curate) three exhibitions over the past few years as part of my role as collection manager at the John Curtin Gallery. I do find that I tend to work less on my own creative projects during these times.

NL: When did you know that you wanted to be an artist? And how did you find your way to making a sustainable career in the arts?
LM: We always had art materials in my home when I was growing up – my mum was an art teacher and very creative herself. After I left school I went straight into a teaching degree as it didn’t seem at all possible to be an artist. I ended up changing courses a few times and doing other things until I finally went back to do a visual arts degree when I was 22. I knew then that I was in the right place and it was wonderful. Being an artist in the “real world” is much harder than art school though and it was a long time until I was in a position to really prioritise that. At the end of the day, it’s a lot of hard work and persistence.

'My drawings and sculptures find inspiration in collected objects from the natural environment, while also revealing the darker, uncanny world of the psyche.' Lia McKnight, Aurum, 2018, ink, graphite and pencil on paper, 57 x 76 cm.
‘My drawings and sculptures find inspiration in collected objects from the natural environment, while also revealing the darker, uncanny world of the psyche.’ Lia McKnight, Aurum, 2018, ink, graphite and pencil on paper, 57 x 76 cm.

NL: Your bio states, “Privileging lived experience and emotional geographies as areas of intrigue, [Lia McKnight’s] work seeks to speculate on the shifting parameters of identity and context.” Tell me more!
LM: This is a rather convoluted way of saying that I am interested in the everyday – what we feel and experience, as well as the objects and environments that we live with. This includes psychological states, dreams and the unconscious. You could draw connections to an artist like Louise Bourgeois who created work that directly referenced her own internal reality and memories or experiences of her childhood. In this way, aspects of life that have traditionally been framed as feminine (and therefore lesser), such as emotion, domestic realms and so on, are provided equal status to, or primacy over, intellect.

I am interested in the ways in which we identify ourselves and the things around us and how this is constantly changing depending on a vast range of factors. To give an example, the sourced imagery and collected objects that I reference in my work have been found around the bushland and coastline where I regularly walk: places close to my home outside Fremantle. They are humble and everyday objects but placed and arranged in my studio, they become precious. This particularly became the case last year when some of the places I walked were bulldozed as part of the Roe 8 project. The banksia nuts, balga resin and sticks I had collected became like artefacts or sacred objects. To cycle back to that original sentence, my drawings and sculptures find inspiration in collected objects from the natural environment, while also revealing the darker, uncanny world of the psyche.

Lia McKnight, Memento 17, 16 & 18, 2017, found objects, copper, wool and balga resin. Photographed by Eva Fernandez
‘I have also created a number of sculptural works that combine ceramics and textiles that I describe as ‘uncanny assemblages’.’ Lia McKnight, ‘Memento 17, 16 & 18’, 2017, found objects, copper, wool and balga resin. Photo: Eva Fernandez.

NL: “Sensual Nature” has been developed from an idea that is credited to you. What was the original idea? How did it land up being developed into this exhibition?
LM: I proposed a solo exhibition to Fremantle Arts Centre and there were a number of themes and ideas described within my proposal that resonated with curator Ric Spencer. I spoke about the sensual experience of objects and ways in which imagery of natural or organic forms can connect to the subconscious, the erotic and the uncanny. There were also connections to broader environmental concerns. Ric and I are both interested in the writings of cultural ecologist and philosopher David Abram who describes the possibility of an active participation with nature, saying, “Perception is a kind of improvised dance with the world, a dynamic interaction between my sensing body and the sensuous landscape.”

Ric could see the potential for this to be broader than one small personal story and there are now eleven other amazing artists on board.

NL: Tell me about the work you have made for “Sensual Nature”
LM: I have created a series of ink and graphite drawings that interweave imagery of collected findings from the natural environment with a kind of process-driven “stream of consciousness” technique. I have also created a number of sculptural works that combine ceramics and textiles that I describe as “uncanny assemblages”. There is a dark humour to many of these works and they all shift between the real and imagined.

NL: What is your favourite playground equipment?
LM: Ooh I love a good slide. Or if it’s an extra cool playground, the flying fox!

“Sensual Nature” runs March 29 – May 20.

Top: Lia McKnight.

Please follow and like us: