Until 9th May 2020
Pine’s Eye is an ambitiously-curated exhibition exploring human subjectivity within the context of ecological change and the natural world. Taking its name from ‘Pinocchio’ (the Italian for ‘pine eye’ or ‘kernel’), Talbot Rice Gallery curator James Clegg brings together twelve international artists, some with strong heritage links to indigenous groups far and wide. Clegg sums up the exhibition as something which “reflects the fact that the environmental crisis we face today is bound up with a long history of colonialism: the repression of indigenous cultures, the loss of wisdom derived from animals and plants, and the industrial exploitation of people and resources.”
With these themes in mind, entering the cavernous space of the White Gallery seems slightly unsettling. It could just be the mysterious soundtrack leaking from Laurent Grasso’s work OttO (2018) above you whilst you tiptoe around masks, ponder felted industrial objects, and over-scrutinise large scale photos of flower displays. There’s also a sense of time-travelling through humanity’s spiritual relationship with objects, the living world and cultures illogically erased through power play.
Artist and hereditary chief Alan Hunt and the Kwakwaka’wakw community present Atlakim Masks (2019), 15 new masks used for a performance ceremony once outlawed by colonial NW America. Using feathers and found natural materials, the masks illustrate the story of a young boy’s encounter with virtuous guiding spirits who teach him respect for all living things. Two carved cedar and horsehair masks from Kwakwaka’wakw chief, artist and activist Beau Dick (1955-2017) are also on display.
American artist Taryn Simon reconstructs/deconstructs flower arrangements displayed at the signing of treaties, trade agreements and diplomatic accords. There are only two photographic images here, leaving us wanting to see more from this fascinating series.
Chilean artist Johanna Unzueta constructs felt objects in natural forms around industrial shapes and a large 3D mural dominates the gallery space. The works explore relationships between industrialisation, colonialism and craft processes.
Dominican artist Firelei Baez’s artworks cover deaccessioned colonial historical texts with images that embody Afro-Caribbean female subjectivity. Ink figures, expressive colour abstractions and mythological creatures dramatically subvert these antiquated book pages, maps and illustrations.
Beatriz Santiago Munoz’s documentary films focus on the ecology and creole culture of her native Puerto Rico. This showreel of five shorts features hallucinogenic and toxic indigenous plants, their role in magic and the effects of tourism and exploitation.
Torsten Lauschmann invites you to enter a multi-sensory space filled with mechanical/digital hybrids. TOPIARY JIG (2020) is an exciting sensory installation of ritualised, dancing mobility aids, brought to life like marionettes, alongside percussive sounds, projections of topiary, slicing laser beams, camera-phone live imagery and flashing lights. There’s a sense of human involvement in growing/cutting back nature in a timeless loop.
Kevin Mooney explores Ireland’s experience of coercive migration, colonialism and their cultural effects. Using layered imagery of veiled figures and enigmatic forms, Mooney creates an imagined history through haunting oil-on-jute portraits.
French artist Laurent Grasso’s oil painting series, Studies into the past (2017-19), highlights our assumptions about progress, art, magic and science. OttO (2018) and its unsettling soundtrack explores ancestral sites and their mystical energies.
Austrian artist Lois Weinberger examines how human attitudes towards controlling ‘other’ cultures relate closely to the categorising and control of plants and weeds. Invasion (2009) is an arresting installation work using real tree fungi.
Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta (1948- 1985) used her own body in ritual performances literally connecting her to nature. The ink drawings shown here come from those performances and capture a sense of timeless, universal symbols.
Haegue Yang offers an ensemble of sculptures from The Intermediates (2015-16) series with a new sound element using technology developed at the University of Edinburgh. Artificial straw sculptures are placed upon a mystical floor design. Here, the connections between pagan culture, universal forms and technology are strong. We experience both the familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
Do pick up and read the detailed exhibition guide, unless you just want to let it all wash over you. It’s also helpful for engaging with and navigating the exhibition and to identify the artists and works.
If you entered Pine’s Eye feeling slightly unsettled, you may well leave even more unsettled at how much of humanity’s ancient wisdom and connectedness has been lost to capitalism and colonialism. It also sends out a clear message that our relationship with nature is ever-changing, ever-symbolic and everlasting.
Talbot Rice Gallery
The University of Edinburgh
Old College, South Bridge
Edinburgh EH8 9YL
Main image: Laurent Grasso – Studies into the past, 2013
With thanks to Julie Boyne for this review.