Heather Phillipson takes us back to nature at the DCA


Quite often, an art exhibition can speak to an individual in the same way that a particular song, film or book can; evoking emotions, memories or thoughts as strongly as Proust’s fabled madeleine. This is a consideration that is often ignored, as we often set our focus on interpreting the artist’s own feelings in the work, rather than our own connection to them.

This autumn at the Dundee Contemporary Arts, we are treated to emerging talent Heather Phillipson’s impressive suite of works, with the perplexing title ‘sub-fusc love-feast’. The London artist’s exhibition is bold and expressive, and incorporates elements that she is most familiar with; that of poetry and music. The show’s concept is incredibly simple: it’s all about nature, and how as humans in the 21st century, we’ve lost our love and connection to the natural world and other animals. For me, the art here resonated profoundly, for only a few months ago, I switched to vegetarianism for ethical and environmental reasons.

Divided between the two galleries of the DCA, the exhibition flows naturally, as if strolling a woodland trail. In the first room, we are introduced to the show’s vision of absurdity and the fantastical; a giant image of a field, with a bizarre pink orb in front, and green goop covering the floor. It’s all refreshingly child-like, and with this introduction, we are forced to simplify our thoughts. On the floor is projected the first film of the exhibition, which tracks the mundane, modern life of the artist, as she gets dressed, drives a car and other daily tasks. Through her vision and train of thought, manifestations of animals and nature appear, suggesting she is weary of urban life.

In the second, much larger gallery, we enter a cornucopia of cardboard cut-out creatures: fish, birds, cows, giraffes and insects. Dozens of these colourful life-size, and oversized pop-up animals fill the space, making the usually sparse room rather cramped; as if a natural history exhibit had exploded everywhere. Amongst these creatures, Phillipson includes green wooden landscaping, and cardboard mountains and trees, with the occasional nude human form appearing in the mix.

This ‘nature room’ is an excessive audio-visual experience, with imagery in every direction and constant sounds and music. In this work, we see both the beauty and serenity of nature but also the chaos; the space is wonderful, yet intimidating.

The major film of the exhibition is displayed on three corresponding screens, and includes the artist’s witty, yet sad poetry and supporting imagery of the natural world. She repeats the phrase “anyway, back to nature”, and references the artist Cezanne, whose move from Paris to Provence transformed his art, as he relished the beauty of the Mountainous region there. All of the human forms across the exhibition are nude, suggesting that nudity, for Phillipson is a symbol of returning to nature, or as she muses in her verse, “if you don’t know nudity, is it possible to be nude?”.

Phillipson, who speaks from the animal’s perspective at various points in the film, informs us that “our inner nature is dematerialising”, it seems that the modern world is suffocating for her, and she urges us to re-establish our relationship to animals and nature. After visiting the gallery for countless exhibitions since moving to St Andrews, the DCA continues to impress in their ingenious utilising of space. For a rather small gallery, the curators and artists manage to create completely different realms each time, and display artworks in a refreshing and imaginative manner.

‘Sub-fusc love-feast’ is on at the DCA until Sunday 9th November 2014


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