‘[O]ver that art/ Which you say adds to Nature, is an art / That Nature makes...we marry / A gentler scion to the wildest stock / And make conceive a bark of baser kind / By bud of nobler race: this is an art / Which does mend Nature, change it rather, but / The art itself is Nature’. William Shakespeare Hignell Gallery is pleased to present Renaturing Nature, a group show spread across St James’s Square and Hignell Gallery. The exhibition brings together a group of internationally acclaimed artists who, through their distinctive practices, explore the natural world within an urban landscape. Renaturing Nature explores the dialogue between sculpture and the natural world and includes sculptures by Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos (b. 1971), British artists Kate MccGwire (b.1964), Peter Randall-Page RA (b.1954) and Sophie Ryder (b.1963), and German-Canadian artist Vanessa Paschakarnis (b.1970).
In St. James’s Square Joana Vasconcelos presents Te Danzante (2018), a large-scale sculpture in wrought-iron, covered with jasmine plants, commonly used to scent green tea. The light-hearted exterior of the sculpture echoes the custom of drinking tea, but also subtly alludes to the artist’s identity and history of Portugal, which played a crucial role in the introduction of tea in Europe after the arrival of tea from the East. Through the creation of a playful yet extraordinarily direct work, Vasconcelos appropriates and decontextualises an everyday object like a teapot, creating a series of historical and cultural references that invite audiences to question and subvert everyday realities. Te Danzante embodies the artist’s practice, which explores issues related to contemporary society ranging from collective and national identity, to immigration and gender discrimination. This is the first time the sculpture has been exhibited in London. Further works on view in St. James’s Square as part of Renaturing Nature include Aussie Earl (1996) by British artist Sophie Ryder. This sculpture is a summation of themes Ryder has been exploring for several years, related to a universe inhabited by hybrid and mystical creatures, rooted in mythology and cultural symbolism. A triumph in bronze casting, the surface is a mosaic of visible machine parts, toys, memorabilia and smaller sculptures which the artist embedded into the original plaster. Often associated with the different phases of the moon, the hare is a nocturnal animal symbolic of lust and fertility. Aussie Earl forges a powerful image charged with character and emotion. Sited in the urban landscape of St. James’s Square, this monumental metallic sculpture demands a real engagement from the audience; the experience of walking around the square matches the energy and physicality of the work.
Alongside the outdoor sculptures in St. James’s Square, Renaturing Nature features indoor works at Hignell Gallery by British artists Kate MccGwire and Peter Randall-Page RA, and German-Canadian artist Vanessa Paschakarnis. Kate MccGwire moulds hybrid sculptures from organic materials to create uncanny works that explore the state between life and death. Her practice investigates the tension between the natural and domestic worlds through the construction of large-scale installations. For Renaturing Nature MccGwire has selected her celebrated site-specific work titled Slick (2010). Using iridescent feathers from the wings of magpies, MccGwire creates an enthralling installation, reminiscent of mythical creatures, enchanting and haunting at the same time. Though seemingly unsettling at first, Slick carries a powerful image of familiarity: with its curves and fissures it almost recalls a physical body. Alongside Slick, MccGwire presents a new series of her award-winning cabinet sculptures especially created for the exhibition.
Renaturing Nature also presents an installation by British artist Peter Randall-Page RA, whose practice is informed and inspired by the study of natural phenomena and the geometry of organic materials. Throughout his practice Randall-Page analyses the impact of the natural world on human emotions, giving special attention to the infinite geometrical patterns found in nature. The organic form of his sculptures allows the work to sit naturally indoors and outdoors. Displayed at Hignell Gallery, Rain Cloud Screen I & II (2015) is an exemplary work that best symbolises Randall-Page’s interest in natural forms and patterns and explores the dynamic and ever-evolving tension between order and chance. A large-scale installation, Rain Cloud Screen I & II consists of four drawings joined together on four panels. The work presents clear structuring patterns that evoke both a natural intrinsic order and elements of variation.
Alongside works by MccGwire and Randall-Page, Renaturing Nature at Hignell Gallery showcases the work of German-Canadian artist Vanessa Paschakarnis. The artist’s body of work often displays a world inhabited by familiar forms and examines their relation to the human body. Capricorno 1 & 2 (2017) displays the heads of two Capricorns, which embodies Paschakarnis’ fascination with domesticated beasts. The Capricorns have been stripped of their majestic existence and turned into mere objects. As well as the outdoor Capricorns, Hignell Gallery will display Paschakarnis’ monumental Crane Flies (2015) inside the gallery creating a more dramatic experience. As the artist describes ‘once you enter the space you will be among them, another object, immersed. Slightly unsettling, the Crane Flies are curiously mobile and always appear to be about to move, towards us, among us, with us’. It is the first time the sculptures have been exhibited in the UK.