Parafin is delighted to present a group show exploring images of forests. The exhibition includes both gallery artists and guest artists and takes as its starting point an engraving by the great nineteenth century illustrator, Gustave Doré.
Throughout history forests have been powerful symbolic sites in all cultures, yet have often represented quite contradictory ideas. On the one hand, the forest has been seen as a place of retreat, of sanctuary, and of regeneration (Robin Hood’s Sherwood, Shakespeare's Forest of Arden). On the other hand, it is a place of danger and confusion (see the stories of The Brothers Grimm or films such as ‘The Blair Witch Project’ or ‘Wake Wood’).
At the beginning of ‘The Divine Comedy’, in the first lines of the ‘Inferno’, Dante writes:
‘Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.’
Doré’s iconic illustration shows the poet, a lone figure completely isolated within an impossibly tangled wood. Here, the forest becomes a visualisation of his mental landscape.
Taking Dante’s lines as inspiration, the exhibition explores how images of dense and tangled undergrowth can convey or evoke different states of mind, as well as wider societal themes. These images are knotty, impenetrable, unruly and overwhelming – feelings we are all familiar with at the moment – but we might also see them as pastoral or Romantic visions offering the possibility of escape from recent events. While the works themselves were not made with Dante in mind, by bringing them together we invite the viewer to explore subjective responses to what is one of the fundamental cultural archetypes.
Indre Serpytyte’s Forest Brothers series is part of a larger body of work, entitled ‘1944-1991’, which explores the impact of the so-called ‘war after the war’ in Lithuania. Serpytyte’s beautiful but anonymous images are in fact highly charged, depicting sites of anti-Soviet resistance in Lithuania. The intimate photographs document locations used by resistance fighters both as refuge and burial sites.
Melanie Manchot’s photographs document the patches of snow that persist in the mountains long after winter has passed. They are part of a series of investigations into the material qualities and conditions of white, specifically in relation to snow and ice in the landscape of Engelberg, Switzerland. In the images, the melting snow glows against the dark, foreboding woodland and sky, revealing itself as physically precarious, archetypes of an endangered natural materiality.
Hannah Brown paints landscapes which are rich with either personal or societal associations, for example places known since childhood or sites scheduled for building development. In her Compression series, Brown experiments with folding and drawing upon her reference photographs to create breaks within the picture plane, which enhances the sense of enclosure inherent in her images.
Alison Watt’s painting Untitled (Thorns), is exhibited here for the first time. The painted tangle of impenetrable thorns is unlike any of Watt’s other works and was inspired by a Norman McCaig poem, Praise of a Thorn Bush, which describes a transformation by moonlight:
at night you trap stars, and the moon
fills you with distances.
Rebecca Partridge’s Night Forest Mirror diptychs were made during her residency at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation where she spent time in a treehouse observing the sky. They depict tree canopies at night and are created through the act of sustained looking and acute observation. Through mirroring they are transformed into Rorschach-like images, open to possibilities of interpretation.
Viktor Timofeev’s drawings are created by using a foundation of irregularly scaled grids, from this he builds patterns and uncovers formless voids. What is created are haunting landscapes with hints at discernible objects. In some, figures and branches are revealed amongst the chaos. In others, the tangle of shapes and lines override all else. The drawings are like hallucinations of landscapes and forests ‘a patchwork of worlds: passing thoughts, fantasies, desires, what-ifs, curiosities…’
Sophy Rickett’s ‘nature studies’ are in fact examinations of de-natured subjects. Her work is much concerned with what a photograph might reveal and what it might conceal. The owl, the archetypal nocturnal bird, was actually photographed during the day, with the image then manipulated in the darkroom to make it look like night. Moreover, the bird is not wild but photographed in an owl sanctuary. The trees are not illuminated by an ecstatic sunrise or sunset but by artificial street lights.
Refuge 1 by Cathy de Monchaux uses twisted copper wire to form knotted trees interspersed with half-hidden unicorns. These works reference the Renaissance paintings of Uccello but also evokes fairy stories and childhood nightmares. In de Monchaux’s mind they are also sites of darker stories from the contemporary world. She has stated that she associates these locations with ‘people in Europe waiting on the edge of a forest somewhere, trying to cross a border, running for their lives. All these people must have their own dreams of unicorns…’
Hiraki Sawa’s hallucinatory Aurora is based on footage of the Northern Lights taken at Yellowknife in Canada, just 250 miles south of the Arctic circle. By mirroring the image both horizontally and vertically and treating the colour, Sawa places the forest within a mystical world, one pulsating and moving with the light show above it.