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Newlyn Art Gallery 26th April - 18 June
John Wyndhams 'Day of The Triffids', 1951, is taken by many to be an allegory of The Cold War. Thus whilst idealised images of the natural world, are more often than not, used by advertisers to connote health and well-being, mildly grotesque or deformed representations tend to symbolise deeper fears and anxieties. The unsettling, triffid-like works in 'Curious Nature', curated by Lucy Day and Eliza Gluckman, largely belong to this latter category.
Helena Goldwater's exquisite watercolours in the lower gallery are first to greet the eye. They are based on traditional botanical studies except the plants they depict are purely fictional: Mendelian mutants, hybridised in the imagination.
Two small paintings, 'Curious Nature' and 'Parallel Botany', by Andy Harper are also installed downstairs. Harper creates panels of dense, writhing vegetation by carefully pushing oil paint around on a shiny white surface. The interlaced brushmarks themselves make improvised fronds, tendrils and leaves, and the resulting overgrown mass of plant-forms has hallucinatory intensity and power.
Melanie Stidolph and Nadege Meriau both show large photographs featuring animals. Meriau's images are staged and lit to create intriguing mini-narratives that, in their opulence and surrealism, are reminiscent of Peter Greenaway's films. In one photograph ('Les Escargots') snails appear to have swarmed over the legs of a woman in high heels, in another ('The Hunter') a fox is cowering on a chair with wall-paper depicting a hunt behind it.
Stidolph's work, both in the lower and upper galleries is not posed, but still has an understated poignancy. In 'Athena' - the title seemingly referencing the poster manufacturer - a foal lies at the feet of its mother, either sleeping - or dead. Leonora Chan, another photographer, contributes smaller images of hedgerows at night taken using light pollution as their only light source.
The artificial lighting in the lower gallery feels, appropriately, like a damp woodland glade or reptile house at a zoo. Many of the themes stated downstairs continue upstairs, and the same artists are featured, though the strong clear light of the upper gallery is somewhat less evocative.
Meriau's 'Moonlight feed' is haunting and memorable and seems to contain occult references: a young mother is depicted breastfeeding her baby, goat to her left, and moon to her right. By far the largest work upstairs is 'The Visitors' by Harper: three large panels of densely painted vegetation that loom menacingly over the space.
Also prominent in the upper gallery are works by John Timberlake that are placed diametrically opposite one another. Three large photographs each called 'Colony' are images of tarmacced ground, onto which, in pencil, have been drawn landscapes and mountain ranges. Demonstrating a different, though related, conceptual strategy by the same artist, were four small paintings based on illustrations of the moon's surface taken from books from the 50s: a time before space travel.
Rupert White 26/4/08