Dou­ble edge of na­ture

The sen­sual and erotic are cen­tral to a provoca­tive and plea­sur­able ex­pe­ri­ence, writes Wil­liam Yeo­man

The West Australian - - WEEKEND ARTS -

The ti­tle of Gomeroi artist Penny Evans’ work Minyaminya­gal Burib­ara means “ev­ery­thing is preg­nant”. Her ceramic shapes with their del­i­cately in­cised sur­faces give birth to an­ten­nae of echidna quills, wire, cot­ton and raf­fia which in turn seem re­cep­tive to na­ture’s ev­ery whis­per.

Both the art and the idea re­flect a propen­sity for or­na­ment we share with the na­ture of which we are a part, born var­i­ously of de­sire, in­stinct and thral­dom to the gor­geous gen­er­a­tive ca­pac­ity of bi­na­ries and their rhythms: birth and death, day and night, breath­ing, sex.

This game of theme and vari­a­tions per­vades fields such as en­vi­ron­men­tal aes­thet­ics and phe­nomenol­ogy. It also bub­bles up and plays around the ex­trem­i­ties of Fre­man­tle Arts Cen­tre’s lat­est show Sen­sual Na­ture, cu­rated by Ric Spencer af­ter an orig­i­nal idea by artist Lia McKnight.

But as the name sug­gests, it is the senses and not the in­tel­lect that are most im­me­di­ately se­duced. Sen­sual Na­ture in­vites sub­mis­sion as much as en­gage­ment, a sur­ren­der­ing of one’s an­a­lyt­i­cal pro­pri­ety to the sen­sual, the erotic, the pri­mal. And why not? It’s a process to which the 12 artists them­selves will­ingly sub­mit. This is na­ture not as found ob­ject but as pre­cip­i­tant, as lover.

Tane An­drews’ flow­ers and but­ter­flies are granted a poignant, spe­cious im­mor­tal­ity in ma­te­ri­als such as mar­ble and sil­ver.

Sarah El­son’s bristling sil­ver and gold en­sem­bles like­wise memo­ri­alise the tran­sient, the ephe­meral.

Three large pan­els from Miik Green’s spec­tac­u­lar Xylem series demon­strate how the WA artist ap­pro­pri­ates “cell-stain­ing tech­niques and bi­o­log­i­cal pig­men­ta­tion” from the sci­ence lab while al­low­ing “the paint­ings to evolve in­de­pen­dently of his hand”.

Franken­stein meets Grin­ling Gib­bons in Juz Kit­son’s Life and ev­ery­thing in-be­tween, a rich pro­fu­sion of blown glass, porce­lain, wool, fur, boar tusks and more that man­ages to be at once funny, sexy and pro­found in the same way as An­drew Ni­cholls’ re­pur­posed Wem­b­ley Ware, fea­tur­ing “sur­real, eroti­cised en­coun­ters be­tween male bod­ies and flora and fauna”.

Ju­lia Robin­son’s “play­ful and del­i­cately rude” works take as their ground the gourd — an ob­ject that evokes both the womb and the phal­lus, and there­fore an­cient fer­til­ity rites. Nalda Sear­les’ mas­terly Tjunti, an old ten­nis ball en­crusted with river stones, re­pays sus­tained con­tem­pla­tion, its strange, dense, com­pact form at once in­ti­mate and ex­pan­sive.

The beau­ti­ful, soft, sepul­chral forms of Holly Story’s Spell­bound, made from flow­ers, silk, ply­wood, xan­th­or­rhoea resin and paint, sim­i­larly re­quire sus­tained med­i­ta­tion, while the rear­ing ser­pent-shaped tines of Heather B. Swann’s witty Rake (Trou­ble­maker) both alarm and fas­ci­nate — as do An­gela Vala­manesh’s alarm­ing ceramic en­large­ments of mi­crobes liv­ing within and with­out our bod­ies which com­prise her Var­i­ous friends and en­e­mies no.6.

Cool­bellup artist Lia McKnight’s works on paper and small sculp­tures re­veal a par­tic­u­lar fas­ci­na­tion with na­ture’s abil­ity to elicit sen­sual and psy­chi­cal riffs on or­ganic forms.

“I draw from nat­u­ral ob­jects but then I like to al­low stuff to hap­pen in this stream-of­con­scious­ness way,” she says.

“One that of­ten draws out those un­canny, erotic, darkly hu­mor­ous el­e­ments. I try to cre­ate works that seem al­most like psy­cho­log­i­cal land­scapes or dream­scapes.”

McKnight en­joys draw­ing fungi, banksias and “all those things which cross be­tween be­ing very beau­ti­ful and se­duc­tive and quite re­pul­sive and grotesque. I love that push-pull, and that’s some­thing that’s re­ally an un­der­cur­rent in the themes of the over­all ex­hi­bi­tion, and quite present in most of the artists’ work.”

In her fas­ci­nat­ing cat­a­logue es­say, Lisa Slade “pon­ders art, and na­ture, as phar­makon,” that is, “that which can si­mul­ta­ne­ously cure and harm”.

It is this dou­ble edge, this fris­son, that makes Sen­sual Na­ture such a richly provoca­tive and plea­sur­able ex­pe­ri­ence.

Sen­sual Na­ture is on at the Fre­man­tle Arts Cen­tre un­til May 20. See

Lia McKnight cre­ates works ‘that seem al­most like psy­cho­log­i­cal land­scapes or dream­scapes’.

Pic­ture: Jes­sica Wyld

Holly Story: Spell­bound (de­tail).

Pic­ture: Sam Roberts

Ju­lia Robin­son: Early riser.

Pic­ture: Jes­sica Wyld

Sarah El­son: La­ment of the la­bel­lum — anaphora con­tin­ued (de­tail).

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