Rebecca Brewer, Rochelle Goldberg, Charmian Johnson, Christina Mackie

26 January — 3 March, 2018

Nature has its prob­lems. Humans in par­tic­u­lar treat nature as a cul­tur­al sub­ject lead­ing to the con­tin­u­al pro­duc­tion of prob­lem­at­ic clichés that ebb, flow and repeat through his­to­ry. In times of polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al insta­bil­i­ty, the ide­al of nature has become a con­cep­tu­al and phys­i­cal refuge from col­lec­tive chal­lenges, often with mixed results. While his­tor­i­cal­ly vari­able in its def­i­n­i­tion, nature has gen­er­al­ly been under­stood in west­ern cul­ture as the mate­r­i­al aspects of existence—but not the prod­ucts of human activ­i­ty. This dis­tinc­tion blurs quick­ly as the depth and breadth of human impact, inter­ac­tion and inter­fer­ence into the nat­ur­al world accel­er­ates. It is this dis­tinc­tion that the artists in this exhi­bi­tion con­test, con­sid­er and trou­ble.

Charmi­an John­son has been pro­duc­ing an evolv­ing series of strange and incred­i­bly refined ink draw­ings of flow­ers and plants for over 40 years. Tak­ing cues from his­tor­i­cal botan­i­cal draw­ings, the works of Albrecht Dür­er and Aubrey Beard­s­ley, and psy­che­del­ic graph­ics, Charmi­an painstak­ing­ly ren­ders plant life of intense inter­est over months—even years. She does not work from pho­tographs or oth­er images, pre­fer­ring obser­va­tion and her own trans­la­tion­al mem­o­ry in ren­der­ing. A draw­ing of a sin­gle flower will con­tain infor­ma­tion from all sides of itself, which she edits and com­pos­es as her own for­mal com­po­si­tion. Draw­ings from the ’70s made in Tang­iers, Moroc­co are graph­ic, the plants’ out­er forms and inte­ri­or lines become inte­grat­ed with abstract form and pat­tern. Work com­plet­ed in Hawaii in the ’80s tran­si­tion from bold lines to more detailed artic­u­la­tion, their trop­i­cal plant forms lend­ing angles and edges. In works com­plet­ed in her home of Van­cou­ver, Charmi­an has devel­oped com­po­si­tions of increased sub­tle­ty and intri­ca­cy, each con­tain­ing an abject anx­i­ety of detail. In con­trast to her atten­tion to real­i­ty, she allows large areas of paper to be left empty—leaves, petals, stems and sketched areas of the work are left ‘unfin­ished’, and acci­dents and notes become aspects of the works’ com­po­si­tion. These ren­der­ings come up against sug­gest­ed and self-imposed hard-edged bor­ders on the page, only to trans­gress and push beyond them in anoth­er area, reflect­ing in micro­cosm the incred­i­ble his­to­ry of the cul­ti­va­tion and breed­ing of flow­ers through sub­jec­tive selec­tion. In per­son, one is asked to move in clos­er to resolve the odd­ness of form, the immen­si­ty of detail, as much as nature asks of itself.

Christi­na Mackie’s Ambic asks for both a wide view of its form in space and con­tains details that also need a close phys­i­cal encounter…just what is that? Two pre­cise­ly fab­ri­cat­ed wood tables are joined togeth­er, their width and length deter­mined by the stan­dard ply­wood sheets of their tops, sug­gest­ing a func­tion­al work­ing sur­face. To what end, we are unsure. Atop this are sev­en large clear glass vessels—each cus­tom blown, thick and unique, their open­ings face the sur­face of the tables’ skin, rem­i­nis­cent of the alter­na­tive heal­ing tech­nique of cup­ping ther­a­py. Not rely­ing on suc­tion to float mate­r­i­al, the inte­ri­or of four of these glass ves­sels con­tain onion skin and arbu­tus bark shav­ings sus­pend­ed inside, sup­port­ed by parafilm, a wax sub­strate used in both domes­tic can­ning and the lab­o­ra­to­ry to tem­porar­i­ly seal glass­ware; three oth­ers are emp­ty, one with a wax film placed atop itself. The curved shape of glass here and the title of the work itself, allude to the his­to­ry of the alembic—an alchem­i­cal still of two glass ves­sels con­nect­ed by tapered tube for dis­till­ing chem­i­cals. This ref­er­ence to his­tor­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy, com­bined with arbu­tus and onion skin, both nat­ur­al mate­ri­als used for dye­ing mate­r­i­al, speaks to colour as tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment, ancient tool, archa­ic device—the his­to­ry of the cre­ation of colour itself. ‘Ambic’ is also short for ammo­ni­um bicar­bon­ate, a com­pound used in fix­ing dyes and pig­ments. The allu­sion to alem­bics, dye­ing and sub­li­ma­tion is fur­ther artic­u­lat­ed with the sub­tle place­ment of two glass­es hold­ing strips of paper seem­ing­ly stained by numer­ous colours, placed on the cross braces of the table as if ready to be brought up for use. The stains are the result of chro­matog­ra­phy paper, which sep­a­rates com­plex com­pounds such as paint into their dis­tinct colour ori­gins for obser­va­tion. Ambic sug­gests the work­ing process of con­nect­ing colour from one mate­r­i­al to the sub­stance of anoth­er mate­r­i­al as a cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion, despite its being a nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­non. Colour as a force, force as deduced from obser­va­tion.

Rebec­ca Brewer’s most recent wool felt col­lage is a twelve-foot high dou­ble-sided com­po­si­tion, sim­i­lar in its hang­ing to her­aldry or tapes­try. Her tex­tile works are devel­oped con­cur­rent­ly with her paint­ing prac­tice, pur­su­ing sim­i­lar con­cep­tu­al and for­mal exper­i­ments in dif­fer­ing mate­r­i­al real­i­ties. One side of the felt presents a curved grid that is applied over top of mul­ti-col­ored float­ing forms, sug­gest­ing a space beyond the wool lines, an inte­ri­or that these forms occu­py and one that we are look­ing into. The view is first pre­sent­ed with an over­all impres­sion of the grid, a repeat­ing group of lines of equal con­sis­ten­cy dom­i­nat­ing our view, and it is only after com­ing to terms with it we can see under­neath or through it. The oth­er side of the felt offers anoth­er vari­ety of coloured forms, this time applied over top of a grid pat­tern, sug­gest­ing the view from the inte­ri­or, look­ing out­ward. On both sides, the grid is curved upwards, sug­gest­ing vol­ume or per­haps grav­i­ty or weight pulling the cen­tre down­wards. On this ‘inte­ri­or’ side, forms gath­er dense­ly at the bot­tom of the com­po­si­tion, as a large fish­ing net weight­ed with marine life. The forms them­selves, some more abstract than oth­ers, float in and out of leg­i­bil­i­ty. What could be con­strued as fish­ing hooks are seen on both sides, or what may be pink coral is also coa­lesc­ing lines, and it is the mate­ri­als’ treat­ment and the accrued con­text of pos­si­ble rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al forms that sug­gest them. As with her paint­ings and pre­vi­ous felt works, Rebec­ca urges for­mal devices into sug­gest­ed lit­er­al forms, in a sym­bol­ic or pic­to­r­i­al space that one can rec­og­nize, exist­ing in a world of both rep­re­sen­ta­tion and non-rep­re­sen­ta­tion. With the grid or net, she asks us to con­sid­er its use in art his­to­ry, as a human struc­ture for sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly gath­er­ing nat­ur­al life and struc­tur­ing infor­ma­tion, as well as con­tin­u­ing to use forms that blur between for­mal device, plant, ani­mal or tool. The dis­tinc­tion between these blurs of abstrac­tion, human and nat­ur­al form—as in the world at large—remains elu­sive as the def­i­n­i­tions and bound­aries between human activ­i­ties and what can be under­stood as the nat­ur­al.

Rochelle Goldberg’s expan­sive sculp­ture and instal­la­tion, Intralo­cu­tor: can you trig­ger the switch? expands her ongo­ing enquiries into the ebbing bound­aries between enti­ties, objects and humans–both the nat­ur­al and the technological–the residue of encounter between mate­r­i­al real­i­ties. For Intralo­cu­tor, she presents a car­pet sub­strate as ground for numer­ous found, grown and fab­ri­cat­ed objects, all in a sim­i­lar gold chro­mat­ic blend. Chia seeds, a recur­ring mate­r­i­al in her prac­tice, were seed­ed, grown and expired for a three-month cycle on the car­pets, both then sprayed with a mix­ture of shel­lac and gold paint, fix­ing the result of this cycle, the his­to­ry of life and death now sta­ble in syn­thet­ic fibres, deceased chia roots inter­wo­ven. Scat­tered on this car­pet are dehy­drat­ed cel­ery roots, exhumed for con­sump­tion, for a peri­od still con­tain­ing the pow­er of growth as they would grow again if returned to the soil. Accom­pa­ny­ing these are ‘light spills’, strands of LED lights embed­ded in pools of clear resin, pow­ered by vis­i­ble bat­tery packs, and with these are brass casts of light switch plates placed on top, inten­tion­al­ly cast so thin that the mate­r­i­al falls away in areas reveal­ing the pow­er source under­neath. Beside this is a weld­ed steel rod out­line of a lamp­shade, its low­est edge woven with lights and its thin steel sprout­ing burnt match­es cast in brass, appear­ing as brazed met­al fun­gal growths. Togeth­er with this is a weld­ed steel stand, anthro­po­mor­phic in scale, rather than hold­ing the lamp shade as func­tion would sug­gest, it sup­ports a glazed ceram­ic bust of a fig­ure, a float­ing human. Intralo­cu­tor: can you trig­ger the switch? digests cycles of organ­ic growth and death, the pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion of pow­er and the mech­a­nisms of ener­gy dis­tri­b­u­tion, both fab­ri­cat­ed and nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring. These light/energy sources and sys­tems, both his­tor­i­cal (match­es) and con­tem­po­rary (LED, bat­ter­ies, lamps, switch­es) fur­ther elu­ci­date these cycles of con­sump­tion and expi­ra­tion. Dis­tinc­tions blur between human-made and nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring enti­ties, shim­mer­ing for­ward togeth­er.

Down­load Talk­ing Points by Rochelle Gold­berg.