The Spectacle of the Lost – Victoria Gallery and Museum – University of Liverpool

10Aug12

The Spectacle of the Lost – Victoria Gallery & Museum – University of Liverpool.

Retracing ornithologist John James Audubon’s journey from New York to Liverpool, The Spectacle of the Lost exhibition sees contemporary artists engage with Audubon and his rare works for the first time at the Victoria Gallery and Museum.

This exhibition is a special installation of new work by contemporary artist group, Birds’ Ear View collective, along with a selection of rarely seen Audubon reproduction prints from the Victoria Gallery and Museum’s collection.

From prehistoric cave paintings to zoos and television programmes, animals have always been considered a spectacle. Despite today’s knowledge, the natural world remains mysterious, unfathomable and utterly fascinating. We have a better understanding than ever about the ways in which our lives can impact the natural world, yet our cities and actions continue to have a negative effect. Will the human race ever be able to live in balance with animals and the natural environment? What will humanity’s relationship with nature be in the future?

In 1826, Audubon sailed from New York to Liverpool with his giant tin box of life-sized watercolours of American birds. He sought buyers for a series of engravings of his work, to publish and share his observations as artist and ornithologist. Whilst in Liverpool, `The American Woodsman’ stayed with the Rathbone family at Greenbank House by Sefton Park where he painted many of the works, which are on display in the Audubon Gallery.

Birds’ Ear View collective is Alexandra Wolkowicz (NYC), Jon Barraclough (Liverpool) and Robert Peterson (NYC). Formed in 2008, they have a mutual fascination with the thousands of birds that fly into skyscrapers during migration season every year in New York alone. Since then, the collective has gathered ‘evidence’ and traces of these collisions and the birds in flight, through installation, photography, drawing, performance, sculpture, film and sound. The photographs of these dead birds are even darker in reality than the image here. They are beautiful and fragile. They create a sense of memorial and remembrance. Reminding me of a body of work I made in 2007, Fragility. You can see them in a short film here

I really enjoyed Jon Barraclough’s large scale drawings. There is something elegaic about presenting such small creatures on such a large scale. They become like the Renaissance paintings of Christ on the Cross, with their bound feet, not that they are religious, but they do take on an awesomeness when birds that might fit in your hand are drawn at human scale (or bigger)

I really enjoyed this exhibition, which was curated by Laura Robertson, who was formerly Director of Royal Standard in Liverpool

Image of Jo Taylor

Tabitha Moses

Threshold: The Sublime Skin

The exhibition was inspired by this gallery’s former function as the female student’s common room from 1892.  Tabitha Moses was intrigued by the history and the women that once inhabited the space.  She studied medical and psychological conditions specific to women – notably hysteria – and the physical expression of mental trauma on the body.

Moses’ new work takes inspiration from a range of material including Victorian medical photographs of women with twisted limbs during episodes of hysteria.  Her interviews with women affected by skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema reveal the stress and emotional pain that skin conditions can cause, which in turn aggravate the condition.  Repressed emotion is forced across the threshold of the body to the skin. The exhibition could have been enhanced by the inclusion of this research material.

From this research Moses has made exquisite objects using the language of fabric and stitch.  Flaky, scabby and itchy skin is rendered beautiful through delicate stitch, and pretty beads embellish pincushion limbs.  Moses’ approach is incredibly restrained, verging on scientific, and her work has many subtle layers that invite quiet contemplation.

Unfortunately for me the exhibition was a disappointment. I really like Tabitha Moses’ work, but unfortunately, I had hoped for more. The work was limited and the context in which it had been made was more interesting than the exhibition itself. Having made a specific journey to see the work, I felt it was not really at a stage that was ready to be seen. It was beautifully crafted and clearly adds to this artist’s very interesting body of work, however having seen it previewed in the Guardian Guide my expectations for an exhibition that would show “sculptural potential” and “explore the relationship between the skin and the mind” failed to satisfy and justify the visit to the out of the centre venue. I would urge you to visit her website, link below, to see more of this interesting artist’s work. Tabitha Moses

That said I would not have seen the excellent Spectacle of the Lost, and I was really impressed with the Gallery and Museum, and would make the effort to see other exhibitions there. I particularly like the connection between contemporary art and museum collections.

Detail of Happy by Tabitha Moses

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