Pressed, Pinned & Skinned – Gallery Exhibit planned for Spring 2018
Artists Samantha Chrysanthou, Darwin Wiggett and Pam Jenks
Referencing the fascination with natural history and the triumph of science among European cultures from the 1700s to 1800s, this joint print exhibit reminds us of a time of intense colonization and appropriation of both human and natural cultures. During the Victorian era, popular hobbies such as pressing flowers, pinning insects and tacking hides to a wall provided the beholder with a piece of art comprised of natural things – even as the act of preserving necessitated the death of the object so valued. With this exhibition, the artists invite us to ponder whether our love of travel and our need to possess and post nature images to our own social media ‘wall’ is a factor in the destruction of these landscapes. This question is especially relevant in today’s era when photography is characterized by adventure travel to far-flung and fragile destinations. In this era of mass extinction known as the Anthropocene, the questions raised and parallels drawn are timely.
In Samantha’s Pressed collection, the landscapes captured appear somewhat distorted, even flattened as if each print were ripped out of a scrapbook. Indeed, accompanying the wall-hung prints is a larger collection of pressed landscapes housed in a hand-made book. What hand took care to collect and press these scenics? What has happened to the environments from which these small scenes were taken? Is all we have left of these places imperfectly preserved and slightly damaged material between the pages of a book?
Darwin’s Pinned is a breathtaking collection of dozens of small images mounted together inside several large boxes: from a distance, the images sparkle like delicate butterfly wings in their collector’s boxes. As we come closer, we see that each graphic image is actually a small scenic speared with a pin to the mounting board of the box. Harkening back to the Victorian tradition of collectors’ display cases, Pinned references our eternal fascination with the graphic aspect inherent in nature and our need to possess the beautiful, rare and prized.
Throughout history, humans have decorated the walls of their living spaces with the strikingly patterned hides of animals. In the Victorian era, animal hides, heads and even whole bodies preserved in formaldehyde were objects of power and privilege in a library or study as well as objects for dissection and study.
Skin is defined as “the thin layer of tissue forming the natural outer covering of the body”. Like human skin, the outer layer of the earth is delicate yet resilient; it is a sensitive membrane easily damaged but capable of repair over time. In Skinned, Pam references the tear-able yet tough qualities of animal skins with her canvas images stretched on rough frames. First, we notice the striking overall pattern in these ‘trophy’ landscapes. It is only when we lean in and see every small shrub or rock – like the individual hairs on a hung hide – that we understand the fractal scale of the beast upon which we gaze.
The exhibit will span three walls in the same room with each artist hanging their pieces on one wall. Pressed consists of three to five unmounted paper sheets hung from wire plus a hand-bound ‘scrapbook’ of pressed landscape photos. Pinned includes three large collector’s boxes each containing 9 to 12 images and hung from one wall. Skinned includes 3 to 4 wall-mounted ‘rugs’ on handmade hide-stretcher frames. There will also be a floor ‘hide’ as well. In one corner of the room, the exhibit also consists of an armchair and lamp and small side table to simulate a quiet corner of a home library or reading room. The hand-made bound book of pressed landscapes will be displayed on the side table. As well, a large, unstretched, unmounted canvas from Skinned will lay on the floor before this tableau. Exhibit will open in Spring 2018 at a location TBA.