Thursday, 7 May 2015

'Woodland Portrait Project' by Fiona MacDonald at Peacock Visual Arts!

I had the pleasure of hosting Kent based artist Fiona MacDonald as she installed her first show not just at Peacock Visual Arts but in Scotland! As the shows title suggests Fionas work comes from a direct approach to her subject matter, in this case a small forest beside her home in Kent. Fiona has created some field notes to help viewers navigate through the show and adding some great background stories to the work, you can read the opening statement below. 

"This exhibition is the first public showing of new work made as the result of my persistent engagement with one smallish, ordinary - extraordinary wood near the M25 in Kent. This wood (actually two interconnected woods and some scrub and steep pasture) is on the hills between my house and the motorway and is on the North Downs. I plan to spend several more years exploring with / in, and learning, this particular place.

The exhibition Woodland Portrait Project at Peacock Visual Arts is conceived as one large, multidisciplinary installation. It aims to mirror the discovery and detail in woodland. I place one thing alongside, against or even inside another, to evoke how disparate large and small things nest and entangle to produce unique 'ecology' in wooded space. It does not attempt to be a scientific or objective or realist study, rather it is a very personal exploration of learning a place and becoming with a place, by making art with, in and through it."

Exploring this rural haven and conducting research into the many aspects which make up this small and unique eco system infuses Fionas work with a depth which not only makes her show stand out but also gives it authenticity. The word portrait suggests building up a picture, capturing a moment which can be translated in many different way and thats what Fionas work does, it takes different elements from her woodland playground and fuses them together to give one overall picture, creating a whole from the individual elements and ultimately transporting the viewer into her world. 

And what are these individual elements? The tree rubbing's form the largest works in the show, giant coloured sheets of paper which have been folded around various trees and then rubbed with charcoal to lift the pattern of the bark, much like we did as children with paving slabs and drain covers. A simple technique but one which requires a lot of skill and delicacy when dealing with 8 feet of paper in a remote forest. One of my favourite pieces is a simple gnarled piece of wood which has some complimentary stoneware attachments along with a growing plant which will hopefully survive the length of the show! Some discoloured sheets of parchment hang serenely from the walls, paired together in sets but one appears to be missing. When asked about this Fionas response was perfect "I left them out side a fox hole and the fox stole it". I like to think s/he's got it hanging up in his den, adding a bit of colour to his dun dull walls. The flower like totems which seem to be busy in some kind of ritual are also created from animal excavations, some from a badger set and the other creatures which call the forest home. 

It feels like everything in the show has gone through a real process in its creation which rely's on an interaction with the woodland and its other inhabitants. And its an engagement which also transcends into the gallery experience, the scale of the paper works recalling the grandness and scale of the trees to which they were attached. I think the 'Woodland Portrait Project' or at least this instalment of it has captured a real elemental piece of the woodland from which it was derived and serves as a great escape from the grey buildings of Aberdeen. 

The ' Woodland Portrait Project' will be on show at Peacock Visual Arts until the 23rd May with Fiona hosting a special discussion about her work with Dr Jo Vergunst, lecturer in anthropology at Aberdeen University on Friday 22nd May at the gallery so be sure to check out the show!