Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Absence, Substance, Nature

by Jessica Holburn

30 Apr 2012

Nature is wont to hide herself.

- Heraclitus

In our increasingly technocratic existence, it's hard for us to contemplate the nature of nature in a comfortable or meaningful way. While beautiful and poetically inspiring, it is also threatening and unforgiveable. This endeavor will explore two artists from differing cultural backgrounds under the philosophical framework of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, in particular attention to the notion of a botanical rhizome as an underground and liberating force, with endless potential for connectivity, fissures and growth.

Contrary to the dichotomies of Western thought, Fujian artist Huang Zhen subscribes to the Daoist belief that we humans are bound within a harmonious universe, in which we are inseparable from the elements around us. An installation piece by Zhen called Landscape Series can be witnessed in its harsh flesh on the white-boarded floors of the White Rabbit Gallery. Elegantly enmeshed creatures from a distance, they are aggressively mettlesome up close. Overhauling traditional Chinese landscape painting, Zhen delivers a dimensional piece that you can walk around and explore. Human in size, we effectively become insects of these manifestations. This work is a perfect illustration of Deleuze and Guattari’s “body without organs”. We are at witness to a dissolving of the division between man and nature, encompassing a “plane of immanence” between the animate and the inanimate, the artificial and the natural. Zhen’s patient mastery over the stiff, rigid wire posits a contradiction between his man-made, controlled chaos and the reality of nature as organic, growing freely and unpredictably from the earth. We can see through the winding surfaces to find that the interior is an empty void, an abandoned home or entrapment. The wire is woven to create a rhizome, a network of entanglements, which bear strong semblance to the habitat formations in the meditative paintings by Hanna Kay.

Themes of connectivity and harmony are ever present in Kay’s work. Born in Israel, Kay studied and practiced her craft in Europe and the US before settling in Australia, engaging with the landscape. With an upcoming exhibit in Wilson Street Gallery at Danks, she creates a sense of weightlessness, giving her burrows and nest like forms an ethereal, heavenly quality. To look at them is to feel calm and reflective about nature. Notions of absence and substance are thoroughly present in Kay’s work, particularly in her explorations of the concave and the convex. Her recent Circularity series is a depiction of matter suspended in mid-air, defying gravity. They are as weightless as they are encumbered, simultaneously insubstantial and substantial, rising upwards like a balloon. They also allude to Deleuze’s concept of “deterritorialization”, or rather, the “lines of flight”, going beyond linearity into a multiplicity of dimensions. The nest is the antithesis of society as we know it, a departure from the hierarchical organizational structure moving in horizontal and vertical lines. The nest is haphazard, moving neither horizontally or vertically, it is liberated and elevated from the earth yet somehow still attached to it, disconnecting and reconnecting, the way in which an “asignifying rupture” behaves.

What we can uncover from the surface of these offerings is a symbolic gesture, a playful tribute to the natural world reminding us of what we take for granted. These artists celebrate a quiet rebellion, in getting back to the root of existence and finding joy there.  There is something intangible about nature that these artists make tangible in their carefully crafted ways, capturing the sense of the ephemeral, the hidden and the unknown. Nature is always revealing and concealing itself from us and our minds can be equally paradoxical: absent and present, consistent and haphazard - all at the same time.

Huang Zhen is represented by White Rabbit Gallery, Chippendale.

Hanna Kay is represented by Wilson Street Gallery at Danks, Waterloo. Her book Notes on the Shed, is also available from Wilson Street Gallery at Danks.