Group exhibition with Naomi Bishop and Valentina Palonen
The Broadhurst Gallery
Hazelhurst Arts Centre
15 - 25th June 2019
Kathryn Cowen, A Field Guide To Reality 1-16, 2015-19, acrylic, aerosol and oil on canvas, 20 x 20 cm each work
Kathryn Cowen, Multiverse 1-3, 2019, acrylic, aerosol and oil on canvas, 100 x 100cm each work
The Land Of The Green Ghosts
text by Emily Stewart
I want to invite an edit of this show's title, so that we consider not the land but the lands of the green ghosts, a gesture recognising the limitless realities of Kathryn Cowen's work, the way Naomi Bishop's telluric paintings vault between notions of earthly shelter and planetary force, and Valentina Palonen's elegiac and projective figurations built from memory.
Strange doublings emerge from the film-like scenes depicted in Kathryn Cowen's A Field Guide to Reality. Two figures in particular draw me in, one powerful and one pursued. Mirrored forms, curtain-like they frame the grid of images. The male figure's gaze from on high is studied, distant, while the woman's gaze is defiant and level with my own. She is a heretic, set on fire... How do we know that the world is changing when we are also changing? The distance between the self and the other often feels inviolable, but we know to measure the space between. Their eyes will never meet.
In Valentina's paintings, while the human form is centred, it is often turned away from the viewer. Her use of the white, unpainted line creates a lapsing of order, organic matter, human and non-human rendered on the same plane, without hierarchy. And yet – the human form still figures, in a manner attributable to Roland Barthes, when he writes about figuration as the capture of the body as it gestures, where it 'explodes, vibrates in and out of itself like a sound severed from any tune'.
I carry this thought with me in my consideration of Naomi's work, where gesture is inscribed rather than embodied. In her painting Anathema, her constellation-like mark-making expresses crosses, halos, angles and brackets – a dark symbology best interpreted not as a wish but a curse. Two of her works (Refuge Tonneau, Sanctuary) depict French and Finnish shelters constructed by humans to protect animals from the weather. There are similarities in how she renders her objects, her meteors and shelters. Innately different, they nonetheless figure with the same attitude.
Energy is an elemental force that may heal or destroy, but which remains incorruptible. I am pulled toward the portal-like backdrops of colour in Naomi's painting Refuge, and in Valentina's painting Humming Ground (days end). In another of Valentina's works, The Faders, I notice gauzy patches in the water, thresholds of some kind. Colour, like memory, is only semblance, a temporary flood. This thought issues a kinetic response, I move my body – how – in a slow sweep...
And I feel too this sense of motion at work in Kathryn's Multiverse, where three versions of a landscape variously bloom, shiver and occult.
The poet Fanny Howe, following the ancient philosopher Plotinus, has observed that 'colour, as an attribute of beauty, is derived from the shape of a thing with its darkness pressed away inside'. This leads us straight to what Land of the Green Ghosts troubles. The artists in this show are united by their interest in ecological futures, and they invite us to imagine alternate realities where the materials of the present have transformed into new formations. Kathryn and Naomi's works are edged with the sinister – and Valentina's works while emphatic are not without guile, too. Yet these futures, these lands, are also awash with profound hope.