By Sinead Hogan
THE idea of a nature-themed art exhibition might conjure up images of traditional landscape oil-paintings in dusty, gilded frames. Not so in Alternative Nature, an exhibition of work from the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), which is now open for viewing at the Cavan County Museum.
The exhibition includes works by artists Hamish Fulton, Marie-jo Lafontaine, Alice Maher, Avis Newman, Barrie Cooke, Oliver Comerford, Hamish Fulton, Fionnuala Ní Chiosain, Tony O`Malley and Betty Parsons.
This innovative exhibition, featuring 20 works from the national collection, includes a variety of media. Expect to see a child`s dress decorated with berries, a sculpture made from driftwood, a combination of text and photography based on the experiences of a walker and lots of other thought-provoking nature-inspired artworks.
Alternative Nature will also feature some accomplished painting, because, as curator Johanne Mullan explains, there is room for everyone and everything in art.
"This exhibition explores the variety of materials that artists would use in response to their natural surroundings. It includes film, print, sculpture and paintings. The main catalyst for this selection was Berry Dress by Alice Maher", says Johanne, who is National Programmer with IMMA.
Quirky take on nature
Berry Dress presents the delicate shape of the child`s dress, decorated with berries. On closer inspection, the dress loses its innocence, taking on a more sinister quality. The pins, which hold the berries in place, are arranged internally, so should the dress be worn, these pins would pierce the skin. The artist, Alice Maher, who represented Ireland at the Sao Paulo Biennale in 1994, works within the realms of nature and culture, subversion and transformation, mythology and memory. "Working with materials like bees, berries and hair she builds up a strong relationship with their histories and cultural associations in the creation of surreal works that appear like enchanted objects from a medieval folk tale. Maher`s lack of conformity to one medium and wide use of natural materials are typified in Berry Dress", explains the curator.
Another quirky take on nature comes from Hamish Fulton, whose artwork centres on walks he takes in the countryside, and usually combines text and photography. One work is a list of things he saw while taking a walk superimposed on a photo taken during the walk. Another bears the text `no talking for seven days`. "It`s where he walked on his own for seven days and didn`t meet anyone else. It`s nearly like performance art", enthuses Belfast native Johanne.
Alternative Nature is brought to the County Museum under IMMA`s national programme where they lend work from their collection to different venues around the country, such as galleries, museums, libraries and schools. It is the third of its kind in the Cavan County Museum, previous IMMA exhibitions having been Beneath the Sky in 2005 and last year`s The Borrowings, which was a Cootehill Library and Arts Centre project.
Johanne explains that IMMA relied on other collections in the early days after opening in 1991, and now they are reciprocating. "IMMA first opened with only 45 works in its collection and founding director was quoted at the time as saying that he would use other museums as his storehouse and draw from their collections. IMMA now has a collection of over 4,000 works and it makes sense that we would offer the same to other venues."
The national programme is mutually beneficial and ensures that IMMA`s collection is accessible. "Our main concern is to try to create as much access as possible to this national collection and not allow it to be exclusively Dublin-based. This national programme is a way of creating greater access, helping other venues, promoting our collection and supporting excellence in contemporary art."
To increase accessibility to younger members of the community also, a series of workshops are being held in association with the exhibition. Johanne, who is impressed not only by the beautiful ambience in the County Museum but also by the pro-active approach of staff, believes they have a lot in common.
"Cavan County Museum and ourselves share quite a similar ethos in terms of access, provision of workshops and inclusion of the local community. During December, we`re running a series of workshops for schools. For national school students, there will be a tour of the exhibition, followed by a practical response to the work, facilitated by some of the gallery staff from IMMA. The talks for secondary school students will link in with a question on the Leaving Cert art paper about a visit to an exhibition and how it is put together."
Alternative Nature continues at the Cavan County Museum until 13 January 2008. The Museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday between 10am and 5pm. Check out their new website at www.cavanmuseum.ie