Have you had a productive day?
In the lost summer months of 2020, I was told to start a diary. Each morning I listed my aims for the day and at night I wrote down what I was grateful for and how I could improve. I was promised that this habitual labour of planning and reflection would make me happier and more fulfilled. I kept it up for a few weeks, until I rebelled and started using the diary as a way of marking time and mapping the small actions of the day. These were not life achievements I could include in my bio or CV, they were things to punctuate the day with difference, such as ‘put on lipstick’ and ‘look at woodlice’.
What does it mean to ‘come to naught?’ It means that in spite of all your efforts, your work, your labour, you have failed to succeed. It is to my ears an old-fashioned way of describing failure: more dramatic and absolute. But what happens to our ideas of success in these lost months? Is there, in these naught times, a way of making that stretches beyond ourselves to join with others: human, nonhuman, organic and immaterial, so that the phrase ‘come to naught’ is not a judgement on our little lives but an invitation to gather and reform.
The artists in this exhibition draw inspiration from (pre)histories, ecologies, magic and science. Grouped together, the works remind me of fragments in an archaeology museum. Some appear as pieces, scraps from a larger story. Others seem like visions from a lost world: recognisable, but slightly awry. These artists are feeling their way through materials, histories and natures.
Abi Freckleton’s shapes won’t behave. They are cracked and scraped and fixed into a form that is about to topple. A curled tongue has been clawed at, another has been ripped into pieces and stuck together in an unstable wall. Like salvaged scraps from the clay bucket, they’ve been given a chance to shine again, but this time they’re doing it their own way.
Plants love to fill the gaps in our architecture; the grass in the cracks between paving stones, the thin strip of moss growing around the car door. In Anna Hughes’ work, plants follow the straight lines of geometric shapes, until they veer off in another direction, following their own secret pathways beyond the frame.
Bethan Lloyd Worthington’s fabric sculpture is exhausted. It’s not easy being green. Sometimes you just want to lie down, curl in, crawl back into the earth and rest your head under the pillow. Perhaps it has just emerged out of the green swamp cradled in the ceramic basket.
Christopher Mayer has conjured up ghosts: plants from plants. Each lime wood carving a pale echo of the real thing. Mountain ash, I think I recognise. The others are so intertwined that they turn from being specimens to bundles - decorative remains from a lost carving, a lost land.
Gather objects as you walk through the forest, they will help to map your path. Tom Sewell’s work reminds me of navigation maps used in Micronesia to travel the oceans, shells marking islands and wooden sticks marking the swells. But this map is made from plastic netting, which has caught cuttlefish bone, twig and is that a friendship bracelet? If it is a map, I’m not sure where it takes us. These objects, these islands of attention, appear more like moments of joy that have been bound and stuck.
Isn’t the pale blue of the inside of an envelope a lovely colour? Although now I think of it, aren’t these the sort of envelopes that contain bank statements? Lauren Emily Wilson sings through the anxiety of whatever it might contain, a brush of pink cream, and send the envelope back into the world: a gift from a stranger. On another scrap, another sweep emerges, red on red, or, more specifically, bricky red on pinky red. Wilson pays attention to forgotten things and caresses them for a moment.
Joel Wyllie can bring animals back from the dead, we’ve got the science! Piece by piece, on scaffolding, like a jigsaw, or with origami, we will undead you all. Don’t worry about the weeping sores and the rusting nails, we’ve not finished yet, there’s some more details to fill in. This is just work in progress. Look, I think these two are remembering their mating ritual. We’re hoping for a new-born by the spring.
Eleanor Morgan is an artist and writer. Her book ‘Gossamer Days’ (Strange Attractor/MIT Press) explores the entanglements between humans and spiders. She is currently working with sticky creatures, human and otherwise.