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Indepth Arts News:

"Practising Beauty"
2000-07-28 until 2000-08-27
Wellington City Gallery
Wellington, , NZ

Catherine Bagnall and Kathy Barry explore that customary image of beauty: the flower. By freezing roses in paint and aligning detailed botanical drawings with pseudo-architectural structures, these artists comment on our cultivation and containment of nature. Yet nature thwarts our attempts to control it. Catherine Bagnall’s Flowers are Forever evoke the living messengers of beauty and love. But deliberately imperfect and almost disintegrating off the canvas, the fabric roses disrupt the ideals of perfection and purity which we impose upon nature.

Kathy Barry’s drawings of flowers reference the scientific tradition which orders our perceptions of nature through the means of drawing, naming and classifying. The floating flowers drawn on large sheets of paper pinned directly to the wall are also reminiscent of wallpaper, suggesting that botanical representations of nature have something in common with the reduction of nature to decoration and ornamentation. Yet these drawings subvert the idea that nature is easily contained or controlled. The flowers display a geometric precision absent in the sketches of structural models, and they dwarf the structures which share their shadowy, residual landscape.

While Catherine Bagnall and Kathy Barry examine images of beauty, the work of Emma Febvre-Richards and Maddie Leach engages with the experience of beauty both within the art gallery and outside it. Experiencing beauty involves both the mind and the body, the reason and the senses. The works in Febvre-Richards’ series Topos were made by casting the canvas stretcher in various materials including plaster and resin. The ineffable beauty of Topos is not a result of the artist’s expressive creativity, but an outcome of a systematic process of mould-making.

This exhibition includes photographic documentation of Maddie Leach’s Pariah Tables as well as the tables themselves in the café courtyard outside the Michael Hirschfeld Gallery. In both their prior installation on Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour (once a leper colony and now a Department of Conservation Recreational Reserve) and in their re-installation in Practising Beauty, these objects structure what Leach calls the ‘art of idle moments’. Viewing the Pariah Tables is a sensory and contemplative experience which is imbued with a still and quiet beauty, an experience no less real for its intangibility.

Practising Beauty explores the construction of beauty as an active part of artistic practice. It also explores the beauty suffused in the practice of viewing art. As Louise Bourgeois suggests, there is beauty in both the intellectual epiphany, the brief moment of ‘getting’ something, and in the sensory perception of beauty. But it is a glimpsed, passing intensity which is beautiful because it escapes permanent capture. Rebecca Wilson

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