Exhibition Archive
8 - 25 Sept 2007 - Dubrovnik and New Zagreb, Croatia

Nature and Society

Debra Allman / Maxwell Attenborough / Daniel Baker / Kiera Bennett / Tim Beckenham / Tony Carter / Gordon Cheung / Gerald Davies / Andrew Grassie / Barnaby Hosking / Katarina Ivanisin / Reece Jones / Ian Kiaer / Tatsuya Kimata / Ali Mackie / Robin Mason / Alex Gene Morrison / John Stezaker / Jo Stockham / Tomoaki Suzuki / Esther Teichmann / Amikam Toren / Christian Ward

Multi disciplinary exhibition if you go down to the woods today... curated by artist Robin Mason, took place at the Rockwell Project space in November 2004. Rockwell Project was an artist led cooperative set up by a group of Royal College of Art and Royal Academy graduates, which ran from 2002 to 2007. Rockwell was situated in a deprived area of Hackney, East London. The idea behind this exhibition space was to promote the very current on the London / International art scene, and by doing so to engage the local community as well. In May this year the space was closed, as it has become an attractive location for the property developing market due to the dramatic rise in property prices in the area; partly influenced by the coming Olympics.
A large number of a younger generation of artists (Maxwell Attenborough, Reece Jones, Christian Ward) participated in the exhibition if you go down to the woods today... alongside a number of established artists (Amikam Toren, Tony Carter, Andrew Grassie) who continue to actively participate in the International art scene. The exhibition was well received by the London art world and many of the works exhibited ended up in important art collections.
The exhibition was a kind of experiment that was appropriate to the exhibiting space. There was always an idea to expand on this experimental event and to consider further venues. An ideal opportunity occurred when I was offered means to organise an exhibition at the interesting 'transitional' space of Zagreb's Skyscraper. At the time it seemed that the project would have to be realised in a very short period of time. The opening of the exhibition was to coincide with the opening of the reconstructed Zagreb's Skyscraper that was due in November last year. Initially, I intended to tour the exhibition if you go down to the woods today... to Zagreb, by creating an event that would involve relevant Croatian artists as well. I presented the exhibition project to prominent curator Silva Kal_i_ who then took over selection of the Croatian element of the exhibition. In the mean time, reconstruction works on the Skyscraper were postponed and the date of completion became indeterminate. There was a need for a new space. Parallel to the space issue, the exhibition started to develop in two parallel trajectories.  Consequently in this period of postponement, it truly became a 'project'.
Instead of finding a new space, we discovered 'new spaces': former granary, now the Ethnographic Museum in Dubrovnik and the former leather factory, now Glyptotheque, Croatian Academy of Science and Arts in Zagreb. We visited London and got more of an insight into the UK selection, being further developed by Robin Mason. Somewhere along the way the exhibition-project was renamed as: Nature and Society, Parallel lines.
In the UK selection, some of the artists who initially participated in the exhibition if you go down to the woods today... were excluded from the new project and other new names were invited to participate: Daniel Baker, Tim Beckenham, Gordon Cheung, Lucie Galand, Ian Kiaer, Marko Maetamm, John Stezaker, Esther Teichman, with the idea to get across, as accurately as possible, an overview of what is currently happening on the International London art scene (with an emphasis on the rediscovery of painting as a medium and enjoyment of man-made objects). The Croatian selection by Silva Kalcıic´, alongside what is current, also included an engaged look backwards; a kind of documentation of successive investigational art in Croatia. Within the wide generational span and indoctrinated selection, she comprised prominent art personalities from Ivan Kozıaric´ and Ivan Picelj to Goran Petercol, Antun Maracıic´, Goran Trbuljak, Vlado Martek and over to the youngest representatives of the pulsating Croatian art scene. Parallel lines can also run in opposite directions, and it is down to the engaged public to discover the multiple connections between them.
This project/exhibition came to realisation thanks to the Frankopan family. If it wasn't for their generous support, the actual flow of parallel lines would be hard to imagine. The exhibition was also financially supported by the City of Dubrovnik, the City of Zagreb and City and Guilds of London Art School. In its organisation, great support came from the Croatian Architects Association, particularly by their kind secretary Nela Gubic´. Apart from curators of the Croatian selection and the UK selection, I particularly wish to thank Davorka Peric´ Vucıic´ Sıneperger on her admirable insight into the Croatian art scene.
Katarina Ivanisin Kardum

The Forest Within (catalogue text)

On a symbolic level, the journey into the forest is a journey into the subconscious. We travel from the city – the new home of society – the ‘conscious mind’ of the planet, to the tenebrous and ineffable depth of the forest – the subconscious aspect of the societal mind. In earlier millennia, when much of the planet was covered in forests, it formed the natural home of humankind at a time when the mind was at a stage of development nearer to that of the subconscious; instinctive, intuitive, mythological and imagistic. With the exodus from the forests to cities we can posit a parallel ‘coming to consciousness’ in the human mind. But in this exponential expansion of consciousness something was also lost. The technological infrastructure of the urban environment, with its automation and concomitant isolation of the individual, has produced a society which is fractured by the separation of the individual from nature. The increasing polarisation of the ‘town’ and the ‘country’, exemplified in heated debates over hunting rights, the country-dweller’s resentment of the purchase of second country homes by those living in cities and the increasing redundancy of farmers in a mechanised market-place, have served to highlight the ever growing rift between the forest and the city.
            Every country in the world has numerous myths associated with the forest. From the Bulgarian samodiva or wood nymph and the German story of Hansel and Gretel to England’s Little Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood. The forest acts as a collective depository for society’s subconscious fears but also as the location of its mythic ‘dreaming’, a realm of magic and revelation, of history and fantasy, epiphany and transformation, and these myth are enduring, even in the twenty-first century.
In many ways society, the city, is destroying nature, the forest. Thousands of acres of rainforest have been eradicated in the pursuit of the hyper agriculturisation of the earth. Forest trees are relentlessly cleared to make way for grazing land for beef cattle – one of the least efficient forms of nutrition – usually in the Third World for the ever increasing demands of consumption in the West. The great forests of Britain were destroyed during the industrial revolution to provide fuel for the new machines and factories. We are now at a point when society threatens with extinction that most fundamental expression of nature, the forest. Green belts are being eaten away by the ever-increasing demand for new housing to serve a relentlessly increasing population and concerns about the environment are constantly put to the bottom of the list or priorities.
The forest represents the most profound embodiment of both the sublime and the uncanny. The human encounter with nature induces in the   subject a transformative sense of awe, an awareness of the power of the natural world and a register of humankind’s small place in the greater scheme of things. This conflation of terror and ecstasy in the face of the power of the forest underpins our relationship to nature. Within the dark wood lurks the unknown, and that unknown is our encounter with our own ‘shadow-self’, the uncanny encounter with our doppelganger, the sublimated embodiment of our most hidden desires and our most terrifying fears.
There is an enduring history of artist’s engaging with the notion of the mythic landscape of the forest in opposition to the artificial society of the city. From Kasper David Friedrich’s ‘sublime’ forest-scapes (1774–1840) with their lone figures daunted by the grandeur of nature, to the German expressionist school of Der Blaue Reiter whose leading members were Franz Marc (1880–1916), Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944), and August Macke (1887–1914). They too engaged with notions of a romantic relation between the individual and nature, specifically the forest.
            Robin Mason has brought together a diverse group of artists – many associated with the City and Guilds of London Art School and the Royal college of Art – who continue this engagement with themes around the notion of Society and Nature. They approach this problematic from a wide variety of strategies, some direct, others more discursive. Alex Gene Morrison envisions a new and terrifying sublime now transposed to society from the forest. It is the very elements of an overloaded over-consumptive society which here mutate and form the new uncanny. Jo Stockham actually works in a forest in Oxfordshire, producing work which explores the subtle sensory relationship to the forest, its less overt and evident aspects. Nature can be at once terrifying and beautiful and we need to explore exactly what is the nature of that terror and that beauty. Esther Teichmann’s photographs place the human presence within the seemingly nurturing enclosure of the forest. Amikam Toren’s work Neither a leaf nor a tree, subtly intervenes in nature, manipulating the venous structure of a leaf such that we are confronted with a hybrid structure which is both natural and man-made at the same time, a leaf within a leaf. As in much of the work in this exhibition our perception and conception of ‘the natural’ is disrupted and our assumptions about nature and what is ‘natural’ are questioned.
            What all the artists in this exhibition have in common is an acknowledgement of the dual world within which we now live. We are ‘outside of nature’ and yet rely on its relentless exploitation for the maintenance of society in its current state of hyper-consumption and exponential expansion. ‘Green’ issues – global warming, climate change, rising tide lines, floods, earthquakes, the disappearing forest and the increase greenhouse gasses – are constantly in the media, there is an almost hysterical obsession with the environment, as if we have only just woken up to the devastation which we have wreaked upon the planet since the industrial revolution. It is not so much that art has any political or moral obligation to engage with these pressing issues, but more that any art which is fully connected to its age will inevitably be concerned with the issues of the day. The symbiotic relationship of nature and society needs to be constantly and carefully monitored and adjusted such that there is an harmonious and mutually beneficial balance between the two. If that balance is disturbed then the inevitable outcome will certainly be both disastrous and irreversible.
Richard Dyer © 2007

Richard Dyer is News Editor and London Correspondent of Contemporary magazine, for which he writes a monthly column on the London artworld; Assistant Editor at Third Text: Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Art and Culture; and Art Editor of Wasafiri, the magazine of international contemporary writing. His critical writing has appeared in Contemporary, Frieze, Flash Art, Art Press, Third Text, Art Review, Wasafiri, The Guardian, Time Out, Citizen K, Rapid Eye, Performance Magazine and many other publications and catalogues. His recent publications include: Electronic Shadows: The Art of Tina Kean, (Black Dog, 2004); Dan Hays: Impressions of Colorado (Southampton City Art Gallery, 2006); Riddled With Light: Corpus Lumen: Susie Hamilton, 1996–2006 (Paul Stolper, 2006), Zineb Sedira: Saphir (Photographer’s Gallery, 2006) and Transitive Transduction: Breaking the Integument in the work of Tony Bevan (Ben Brown Gallery, 2007).

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