Human fixes in natural landscapes
Have you ever felt compelled to support and aid something in nature? Set up a protection screen, create a small roof, put it in a box or wrap it with support? For example, on the farm I grew up on, we had massive birch trees in the front yard. My father went to a local welder and had braces made for the tree trunks to support them from splitting.
If you consider this, and also the idea of what we do when we have a broken bone, with plates and screws put in to help hold and heal, then you understand much of what Jocelyn Purdie – artist of Nature Fixed – is trying to convey. At the opening reception, Purdie explained that the idea for her exhibition came from a 25-year-old magnolia tree in her backyard. Over several years, it had become infested with magnolia scale – a rather devastating disease that can eventually kill the tree. She decided to try to save the tree, spending the next two summers on ladders, with gloved hands and water hoses, removing the scales bit by bit. It survived.
Other influences, Purdie explains, come from reading and research. She is inspired by South African author J.M. Coetzee, naturalist James Thoreau, the eco-fiction novels by Margaret Atwood and ecologist Chris D. Thomas. One poem in particular held much meaning for her as she felt it resonated well with her work. This poem is by Coetzee, from his book Diary of a Bad Year. Purdie read this at the opening reception of the exhibition:
“Every day for the past week the thermometer has risen above the 40-degree mark. Bella Saunders in the flat down the corridor tells me of her concern for the frogs along the old creek bed. Will they not be baked alive in their little earthen chambers? She asks anxiously. Can we not do something to help them? What do you suggest? I say. Can we not dig them out and bring them indoors until the heat wave is over? She says. I caution her against trying. You won’t know where to dig. I say. Toward sunset I observe her carry a plastic bowl of water across the street, which she leaves in the creek. In case the little ones get thirsty, she explains.”
Purdie explains it is easy to make fun of people like Bella, to point out that heatwaves are part of the larger ecological process with which human beings ought not to interfere. But does this criticism not miss something? Are we human beings not part of that ecology too?
Over the last several years, Purdie’s subject matter has highlighted her interest in landscape, exploring the human relationship to the environment, and reimagining the natural world within that context. This exhibition is a combination of photography, sculptures and installation. Purdie incorporates a wide range of materials; including found objects such as acorns, pine cones, tree parts (stumps, branches and trunks) and fake fur; in combination with the commercially fabricated metal pieces, dinky trucks and plastic animals. The tree-like sculptures have been put together using steel brackets that are intentionally visible – screws and all. This is meant to emphasize the use of the human hand on the work.
Purdie has photography of the sculptures to create a relationship between the two.
“It is sometimes obvious the connection but by playing with the scale in the images, for me, there is also a disconnect between the two that opens up a space between them which I think allows them to stand on their own,” she explains.
“These were the kinds of things I was thinking about while developing this work. It is really about bringing an awareness of how our actions impact the natural world around us.”
This is a strong theme that is igniting artists around the world; to speak about our impact on our earth. As we watched thousands of people walk out for the climate change rallies this past Friday, with the fierce Greta Thunberg leading the way, such displays are emboldening people to action.
Nature Fixed is exhibiting until Oct. 19. The Agnes Jamieson Gallery is located at 176 Bobcaygeon Road and is open Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is by donation.
The artist would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council.