Experiencing Eden

Updated: Oct 15, 2018

The Norman Rea's first collaborative exhibition with Hard magazine, Eden seeks to explore the utopian ideal of unspoilt natural landscape, sometimes with an emphasis on its foundations in Christian theology, utilising this notion in order to interrogate the experience of looking at nature and interpreting it as a theme. The artists on display draw attention to their own tactile, visual encounter with nature.

The exhibition features a range of pieces, with the work of students Lucy Beckett, William Calver, Minnie Peck and Elinor Blair alongside local and national artists, Kirsty Henley, Laura Simmons, Amber Maxwell, Katy Jennings, Lesley Williams, Lucy Howe and Alexander Hoyle.

The artists on display all adopt a different approach to the concept of Eden, but interesting parallels can be spotted throughout...

Both Laura Simmons and Alexander Hoyle work from a tactile experience of nature; Simmons grew up in the countryside with a gardener (her mum) whilst Hoyle is literally immersed daily through his job as a gardener at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The former is fascinated by the minute detail present in flowers and insects, and utilises a meticulous photo-real drawing technique to convey this, whilst the latter employs photography as a means of conveying his experience of his surroundings to others.

In contrast to this photographic exactness, a number of artists featured rebel against this form of representation, emphasising the abstract patterns at play within natural forms. Minnie Peck and Katy Jennings, both inspired by Matisse, move fluidly between the female body and natural forms, emphasising the synchronicity between the two. Drawing from the Biblical story, Peck describes how her female figures morph effortlessly into flowers, the next moment into vases, until the various shapes adopt an identity that extends beyond mere representation. Jennings works similarly by fragmenting her images into abstracted planes of bold colour.

Like Peck, Elinor Blair similarly acknowledges the concept of Eden as a religious and natural place, but adopts a darker approach to the interplay between humans and nature. Taken during a visit to the Horniman Museum's natural history collection in South London, Blair's photographs depict taxidermy as a practice that undermines the concept of Eden by humanity's capacity to completely remove the natural from nature, presenting the dead as animate objects within a strictly organised and controlled environment. The latter quality is in stark contrast to the wild, uncontrolled depiction of nature in the paintings of Lesley Williams nearby.

The parallels and stark contrasts within the works on display serve to emphasise both humanity's shared experience of nature as well as its distinctly personal aspect. Eden questions how we might depict an encounter with nature, covering a large range of art forms and styles, and ultimately becomes an exploration of the universal and the intimate; nature as theme alongside nature as lived experience.

'Eden' is on display until 27 October 2017 at the Norman Rea Gallery.

Tascha von Uexkull

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