September 20, 2008

the nature of bury

As a curator no matter how much you trust your judgement that an artist will do something interesting, it is still a scary moment when the artist proposes an installation that starts with an ‘empty’ gallery. Whether you take a hard-line on the degree of rigour which an audience faces or not, curating an empty gallery at the start can be daunting. Conceptual environmental artist Kerry Morrison ostensibly started from just that point in her current show ‘the nature of bury’ at Bury Art Gallery.

Actually the gallery turned out not to be empty, it is filled with a question: “where can I discover the nature of bury?” Kerry has for a number of years working in collaboration and dialogue with the scientific method – the gallery opened with the pregnant ‘scientific’ equipment which would be used to gather the samples, statistics and observations of the nature of bury – the display of a methodology of enquiry. I am pleased to write that Morrison’s query was instantly a sort of consciousness of the gallery space, an almost tangible ontology of her question. Having asked six people the question, she mapped their responses and began a series of artistic-scientific field trips, returning with specimens, new knowledge, new insights.

She writes “I choose my next exploration site from the conversations have with passers by at the current site. A map drawing of the next destination will accompany the first map drawing of the first. Travelling with my cabinet of research materials - a camera, sound recording equipment, jars and receptacles of various kinds, observation logbook sheets, crayons, pens, pencils, and a map of bury - I proceed from the gallery to the selected site of investigation. Upon arriving at the given destination I explore this nature of bury. Meeting people, and talking to them about what I am up to is an important element of the work. Through conversations I hope to discover anecdotes and points of interest relating to ‘place’ and the nature of the place. Each conversation I have will end with, “Where’s another good place discover the nature of bury?” (I paraphrased that lot)

What I find remarkable is that the question she leaves ‘hanging’ in the gallery has gained weight as her researches have begun to fill the space. Her exploration of the identified sites of the nature of bury has, as she intends, returned apparently scientific objective samples and observations, and in this very action she draws the parallels (and exposes) the subjectivity of scientific and artistic investigation of the world. She illuminates the ambiguity inherent and the greening-soon-to-be unquestionable nature of what n(N)ature actually is. In this regard even her lower case title is an insightful touch (I do like an artist who sees the subtler points of the language).

Personally I have no interest in nature or the environment – countryside is the dismal gap between cities as far as I am concerned. I recall Picasso once said that if he went for a walk in the landscape, it gave him green indigestion which required him to relieve the overload of his senses with green or landscape paintings. This always seemed daft to me – one because there is no comparison between the sensual overload of a city street with the monotony of the rural and two, sharing the metaphor of green indigestion, a more sensible care of one’s ‘stomach’ is not to ingest in the first place. When Kerry asked me where the nature of bury was I replied an old chemical site (which has become a site of special scientific interest due to the eco-systems evolved from contamination) and Radcliffe town centre. All that said: I have to own up to a great and growing fascination with the discoveries and objects of nature that Kerry is accumulating in the gallery. Maybe this is how I want my nature anyway – in a gallery (or a good park is acceptable) – either way the in turns beautiful, organic and clinical reification of nature, its artistic scrutiny, draw me (of all people) more frequently back than any recent show to see what new insight her accrual of the nature of bury has to offer.

The show runs 19 July - 8 November

After all I have said about the problems of galleries as crèches, the gallery had just such a out of control children problem overflow into Kerry’s installation. A more thoughtful piece on this to follow.

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