Sunday, September 13, 2009
Between Culture and Nature
Stella Brennan: The Middle Landscape
7 September – 3 October 2009
This installation by Stella Brennan features three nylon tents - two of which have videos on large screens playing inside them - surrounded by layers of damp gardening bark. The work references an earlier polystrene ‘igloo’ she installed at RAMP a few years ago. The star though, despite the moving images, sound and sculptural form, is the sweet smell of the chipped bark mulch. Its moist vegetable aroma penetrates everywhere.
The tent with no screen has names ‘carved’ into its internal sides, monikers from different cultures, boys on one side, girls on the other. Could be a reference to Tracy Emin, could be segregated lists of hetero lovers, could be simply non-horny campers who wanted to snooze. Whatever the case, it is more the ragged mode of rendering cut-out letters, its mutilating modus operandi, that is the point. It is creepy and violent, as if the people recorded are victims of some monstrous crime, their names recorded by the perpetrator.
Brennan’s two videos are quite different in mood. One is a loop of an auger drilling into the ground, creating holes for long posts. It seems to refer to the encroaching intrusion of urbanisation into unprotected nature, with perhaps a sexual and violent metaphor thrown in.
The other is a more complicated film about our mediation of the natural world, and processes of cultural bricolage that are part of its indirect comprehension. It uses a carefully crafted written text like some of the films Brennan has shown at Two Rooms. Her installation seems to distract from the film’s multilayered structure which I think would work better presented in isolation.
While that work (and the whole show) leans towards conceptual complexity, the omnipresence of the crushed bark throughout the whole space fits in nicely with Brennan’s examination of our treatment of ‘nature’. It is a cleverly loaded trope (using nature to contain or destroy itself), one that is powerful with its pungent olfactory and tactile associations. It helps link up the tents physically and thematically; pull the initially disparate elements together, introduce an unexpected unity.