What art have I seen?

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on June 30, 2006

Ettie Spencer at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock

Oh! Mother…. what the hell are we going to do about this? The birds are shitting on the floor and the Japanese knotweed is taking over. Even the hoovers can’t cope with the mess and are floating out to sea.

Ettie Spencer’s show at the Dick Institute Kilmarnock makes a pretty clear point. To what extent can man control nature? Has the enlightenment project of imposing rational order finally run its course?

Each of the works juxtaposes a made structure with an element of nature. The cage for the birds is a huge arrow, constructed from angle iron and mesh, pointing out of the gallery towards the open air, but tethered by concrete blocks. It mixes the aesthetic of the delicate birdcage with the scale and material of industrial fabrication. The birds are content enough to inhabit this sign, and yet the irony is that the very symbol of escape is their cage.

Equally the Knotweed racked up in hospital laundry trolleys forms a wall of green in the gallery, also inhabiting the industrial scale of human management systems. Knotweed is described by conservationists as an alien and threatening species. Any fragment of root will generate another plant. Thus it is described as the largest female in the world.

Spencer’s video work, upright hoovers, shaped out of polystyrene, are floating out to sea. They might land on distant shores – a sort of desperate housewife’s message in a bottle.

Going back to see the exhibition again, I was strangely disappointed that the knotweed had not completely filled the gallery. I don’t know why, but I had hoped that instead of the same gallery installation, the living elements would have broken free from the made constraints and that coming back to the gallery would have been like entering a new and natural world.

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