Open: Tue-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat noon-5pm

18 Woodstock Street, W1C 2AL, London, United Kingdom
Open: Tue-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat noon-5pm


From Birth to Earth

Parafin, London

Fri 15 Sep 2023 to Sat 11 Nov 2023

18 Woodstock Street, W1C 2AL From Birth to Earth

Tue-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat noon-5pm

Artists: Evelina Hägglund - Nika Neelova - Aimée Parrott - Joan Snyder - Michelle Stuart

Parafin presents a cross-generational exhibition of artists exploring themes related to biomorphism – the use of abstract forms or motifs that evoke forms from nature such as plants and body parts. The works included focus on aesthetic investigations into the interconnection between the human and the environment, and the environment in the human.

Taking as a reference point the poem by Dylan Thomas, The force that through the green fuse drives the flower (1934), the exhibition explores the paradox of creative and destructive forces coming together in human nature and the biological. In Thomas’s poem, nature is depicted as glorious, fecund and seductive, but also threatening. He contrasts growth and fertility with the forces of decay and disintegration, suggesting an eternal cycle in which all things are interconnected. Following the poem’s logic, the exhibition opens up a poetic space to reveal ways in which, at times, an intense identification (or separation) of the self with the world and the world with the self can take form.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

Exploring the language of abstraction, combining found organic materials with paint, encaustic, charcoal clay and welded metal, the diverse works in the show explore ways of representing nature and experience, as well as mortality. As Evelina Hägglund says: ‘I want to reflect how life and matter is interdependent and interconnected.’

Works from two important series by Michelle Stuart, Brookings (1989) and the Seed Calendars (1995-97) are emblematic of Stuart’s varied practice. These works incorporate natural materials – plants and seeds – gathered from particular sites, and become a record of Stuart’s experience. Seed Calendar: One Month Five Days in Bali Java and Sulewesi (1994) contains 36 grape seeds – one for each day of Stuart’s journey through Indonesia.. The seeds are applied to squares of Chinese paper and arranged in a grid but the work is more about intensified intimacy than scientific rigour. The systematic structure is undermined by the seeds themselves, which seep and bleed into the paper in irregular, concentric circles. Haloed by its own fugitive fluids, each seed generates an idiosyncratic, automatic drawing like another kind of indexical trace, beyond the artists immediate control. The ‘Brookings’ series arrange plant specimens in the manner of a herbarium, yet withhold information about species, location etc, thereby undermining their seeming purpose. They become aesthetic, memorialised objects.

Joan Snyder’s powerful and expressive paintings incorporate found organic materials - poppy heads, grasses – as well as papers, burlap and cloth. Her work beckons for a higher existence at the same time as expressing a relationship with the environment. Snyder’s diaristic approach to painting renders the canvas an extension of her own experiences. The title of Proserpina (2012) refers to the Greek goddess who represented the change of the seasons and the nature of the death and rebirth cycle. The paint is thick and lean, alluring and seductive, yet also intimidating.

Nika Neelova is interested in geological processes and the transformation of materials. Her work often enacts a process she calls ‘reverse archaeology.’ In the Ripple Stone pieces, made by repeatedly pushing her fingers into soft clay before applying a glaze of coloured resin, the process creates an object reminiscent of the geological record. The body’s traces become an analogy for the impact of time and climate on the land.

Organic motifs – seeds, feathers, plants - fluctuate through the work of Aimée Parrott. Her forms suggest a sense of movement and allude to growth. Her abstract work has an atmosphere of interconnectivity with the environment where unnameable microbial forms add to the overall impression of a relationship between the micro and the macro, evolution and deep time. While her work may read like abstractions her sensitivity to/for representational motifs reveal her interest in the transformations observed in ecological or geological structures and other matter.

Evelina Hägglund says ‘My position is between culture and nature. My task is to undo the constructed binary between the two.’ Her sculptures and drawings, notations made in an indecipherable language, attest not only to the difficulty of communicating interior experiences, but evoke the forms of nature, trees, branches, nervous systems. Hägglund has made works involving actual excavations into the ground. She relates holes in the landscape to be like holes in language. Each of her works are an abstract utteration and her titles point to the limits of language. I Silence (2023) is a cast of the inside of the artist’ mouth, a small, uncanny object that embodies Thomas’s recurring refrain, ‘I am dumb’, which runs through his poem. Hägglund describes the work: I want to capture this location of silence. The mouth, a place of meaning-making. The mouth, the place of articulation, speech, shouting. The mouth, now, the place of silence. The resulting sculpture. My silent position in the world, materialised.

all images © the gallery and the artist(s)

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