What's On: Immortal Nature

3 February 2012

An exhibition touting itself as “various realisations of the prophesised end of the world” could be construed as a ploy to prick up ears, but to call Immortal Nature a sensationalist gag would be to undermine a thoroughly sophisticated show. Loosely interpreting themes of nature, extinction, and human society while incorporating a range of artists and various medium,- Edel Assanti’s current spread was a worthwhile reward for my trek through a rather windy winter evening. Sci-fi disasters and off-kilter sculptures are just a taste of what’s on offer in a gallery that’s not to be passed over (despite been very near an overpass).

Viewed across three floors, each level is curated as a distinct “realm.” First was the “Underworld,” with the first floor dimly lit to simulate a sort of purgatory-esque darkness. Upon entering it was Kelly Richardson’s film Leviathan that filled the first gallery wall. Broad and magnetic, I was lost momentarily in a vision before me – Spanish moss climbing the trunks of submerged sequoias looming, figure-like, in an eerie swamp land.

The film’s guttural soundtrack fills the room, acting as an ominous backdrop for the other works on display. Photographs from Robin Friend do justice to the subterranean gloom of abandoned mining tunnels, while preternaturally talented sculptor Alex Hoda holds up the back of the room with Double Helix, a rubber/polystyrine amalgamation that could perhaps be best described as the results of a bear, a scuba suit and a dustbin spending an hour in a microwave. Gargantuan and grotesque.

Floor two has been designated “Earth” and offers less visceral though none-the-less intriguing works. Richard Mosse has caught both flack and admiration for his unconventional documentation of The Congo’s war zones. His unconventional method uses infrared, cellulose sensitive film. All plant-based matter shows up pink while inert matter remains unchanged. It would perhaps be easy to dismiss his work as gimmicky if his photographs were not so profoundly moving.

He handles his subject with the sensitivity of a fine conflict journalist, the surreal palette artfully subverts the landscape. While it’s his more gentle works on show here, his larger body of work captures both the pain and futility of war; eye-catching imagery, full of honesty and impact.

Finally I climb the stairs to “The Afterlife”, a rightful send-off to what looks to be a rather dismal future. Gordon Cheung, the show’s curator, certainly paints an unsettling portrait. His Ashes to Ashes features an absorbing sci-fi desert rendered in sickly yellows and noxious greens. He pulls together composite materials – stock listings torn from newspapers mixed with acrylic paint – to create a toxic wasteland-scape that’s full of narrative, and unanswered questions.

And if that’s not enough to leave you unsettled, around the corner brings you face-to-face with Hew Locke’s Kingdom of the Blind: a gun-toting, plastic-armour-sporting monster of a statue, assembled from the worst of kitsch accouterments (Mardi Gras beads, toy tigers, tinsel, you name it). An homage to the hysteria of junk culture, or maybe just the modern god of crap – I could imagine Locke’s statue rising, newly-formed, from the refuse of a post-apocalyptic shopping mall.

Immortal Nature is good. Very good. Thoroughly enjoyable and not afraid to flaunt it, it’s playful engagement with disaster fantasy showcases some seriously talented artists unafraid of pushing out the boat when it comes to imaginative and innovative art.

Immortal Nature is on until March 3.

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