Supernature | The LAB, Dublin 2014

Image: Lunar Phases 2012.

Preview: June 19th, The LAB, Foley Street, Dublin.

 

Text by Joanne Laws

Supernature: Converging at the ‘soft edges’ of science, nature and the visual arts

Of all the faculties we possess, none is more important at this time than a wide-eyed sense of wonder.’

Lyall Watson Supernature (1973)

 

Following the death of Lyall Watson in 2008, newspaper obituaries across the world struggled to reach a consensus on how best to categorise the author’s eclectic life. While The New York Times described him as a ‘maverick scientific polymath and explorer’, The Telegraph cited Watson’s diverse interests as traversing ‘astrology, paranormal phenomena, alchemy, circadian rhythms, palmistry and dreams’. He was widely credited with ‘bringing science and philosophy to the wider public’ with his New Age books about the paranormal, including the bestselling Supernature (1973). Fittingly, Watson once described himself as a ‘scientific nomad’, denoting his position at the fringes of conventional science. Fluctuating between the rational and reasoned, the conscious and unconscious, Supernature juxtaposed obscure botanic research with systems of belief garnered from folklore, ethnography, and Occult science, to more adequately explain the mysteries of the natural world, and the human experience within it. In short, Supernature probed ‘the space between those things that we understand as normal occurrences, and those that are completely paranormal and defy explanation’.

 

Adopting Supernature as its title, Linda Shevlin’s current body of work occupies a similar position at the ‘soft edges’ of science, nature and visual art.  In this instance, Supernature is a multi-media exhibition, comprising plinth-based sculpture, audio works and a multi-channel HD film installation, which collectively revisit a number of Watson’s botany-related experiments of the 1970’s.  Embarking on a series of controlled studies, Shevlin explored the communicative abilities of plants (Mrs Hasimoto, 2013), and the growth patterns of seedlings at the various stages of the lunar cycle (Lunar Planting Data, 2013). The project took place  during a residency at The Organic Centre, Co. Leitrim, where a purpose-built geodesic dome functioned as a D.I.Y laboratory, a public space for workshops, a backdrop for cinematic projections, and the setting for a short film (also entitled Supernature) documenting attempts to cultivate bioluminescent matter as a renewable source of light.

 

Literary and Filmic Influences

Using Watson’s book as a point of departure, other literary devices permeate Shevlin’s film, evident in the thematic content, visual language and composition. Providing commentary on the experiments being conducted, sections of Watson’s text are relayed by a narrator, while corresponding page numbers are imposed on the film – a literary device reminiscent of Grant Gee’s multi-layered film essay Patience (After Sebald), which features readings from W.G. Sebald’s semi-fictional memoir The Rings of Saturn (1995), delivered via first-person narrative and annotated on screen with page numbers.

 

The structure of Supernature is organised around four distinct ‘inquiries’– Senses; Lunar Rhythms; Empathy; and Searching for Bioluminescence – which seem to function as distinct yet interrelated ‘chapters’. This purposeful compositional device has the effect of altering the expected sequential narrative, producing a series of fully-formed short scenes which are not mutually exclusive, but could happily exist in isolation.  New Media theorist Lev Manovich has widely described how, since the 1990’s, online platforms and digitised content have intervened in the fixed and linear chronology of film, creating symbolic and experimental structures such as Database Cinema, offering different ways to organise narrative. New paradigms in contemporary film and video art were similarly described by Daniel Birnbaum in his book Chronology (2005), which tracks the ‘varying degrees of autonomy from traditional, subject-centred models of time’ across artists’ cinema from the 1960’s onwards, stating ‘It all starts with an ending, and then it ends again’.

 

Further filmic devices in Supernature, from the b-movie soundtrack, to the white-coated lab technicians featured in the film, bring to mind the dystopian, post-apocalyptic scenarios of cold war, 1960’s and 70’s New Wave science fiction, which expanded the traditional confines of the sci-fi genre to reject ‘hard science’ in favour of more literary, artistic and experimental content. The strikingly futuristic architecture of the geodesic dome – a recurrent fixture of the sci-fi genre, often denoting the demise of human civilisation due to air pollution or environmental catastrophe – is used effectively in Supernature. The geodesic structure conjures a visual language reminiscent of environmentally-themed films of this era, such as Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running (1972), which depicted the extinction of Earth’s plant life, and the efforts of a botanist to preserve and cultivate specimens in space. The 1979 documentary ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ also features in Supernature, directly as a cinematic projection within the geodetic dome, and indirectly as an archetype of time-laspe photography, echoed  elsewhere in the exhibition.

 

Edifice, Circadian & Where We Gather

Evidently, in stylistic terms, Supernature is the product of numerous, wide-ranging literary and filmic influences. The thematic content, drawn largely from the natural sciences, focuses broadly on the innate rhythms and cycles of the natural world, and how they adjust in response to external influences such as human intervention and the built environment. A defining visual feature of the film is the dramatic blue-hued lighting, which casts ominous shadows and conjures a paranormal presence. Retrospectively, these technical and conceptual elements seem to have been initiated or explored periodically throughout Shevlin’s previous work, including her collaborative practice with artist Padraig Cunnigham as the duo Cunningham/Shevlin. The three channel video work Circadian (2009) for example, explores artificial lighting as a defining feature of industrialisation, when attempts to diminish hours of impenetrable darkness lengthened the working day, thus denying ‘darkness’ as a mechanism of daily life central to human biology. Within Circadian, the phenomena of bioluminescence believed to be exuded by dead herrings (as described in Sebald’s Rings of Saturn)first manifested itself as a spectacle of ecological and artistic significance. In a similar vein, Nocturne (2009) examined the natural cycles of growth and decay, presented as a phantasmagorical sequence of works.

A recurrent interest in the paranormal previously surfaced in other film works, including Edifice (2009). ‘Edifice’ denotes both a physical structure (such as a large, imposing building) and an elaborate conceptual framework (such as a complex system of belief). Fittingly, the focus of the film was a disused tower (built in 1970’s rural Roscommon), which provided a physical point of convergence for two separate yet interrelated histories. Personal accounts were provided by the architect of the tower, whose design for the building was never fully realised, and the president of the UFO society of Ireland, who used this building for sky watches, designating it as a prominent landmark for extraterrestrial sightings and paranormal events in the region. As their stories collide and intersect, it becomes apparent that, in the absence of the architect’s vision being accomplished, the tower has become a ‘non-place’, which now acts as a repository for other people’s ideals and utopias. This robustly highlights the dialogical relationship between human belief systems and the built environment – a recurrent conceptual premise of Shevlin’s artistic practice. In addition, Where we Gather (2009) used the shell of an abandoned rural ballroom as a site to reflect on Irish cultural history. The filmfeatured a lone trumpet player and the silhouette of a dancing couple, who appeared as chimerical figures, highlighting a discontinuity between traditional community values and modern society in the local versus global dichotomy – a trajectory which suitably returns us to thinking about contemporary Ireland, using Supernature in the Leitrim context as a motif for potential avenues of change.

 

Self Sustaining Practice

Some believe that the Celtic Tiger building boom (with its centralised, artificial housing estates and hyper-constrictive planning regulations for ‘solo-builds’) discriminated against the ancient habitation patterns of traditional rural living. Some might argue that County Leitrim itself is a complex dichotomy; a palpable divide between the legacy of wastefulness, greed and ruin embodied in the county’s innumerable ‘ghost estates’, and the ideology of ‘utopian living’ brought to the area by the influx of migrants from European cities (during the 1980’s Thatcher-Reagan era), reviving the skills and crafts necessary for self-sufficient, ‘eco-living’. A standoff still endures between multi-national oil company plans for shale gas extraction in the county, and the anti-fracking activists who still campaign against this international (yet localised) agenda. Turf-cutting and wind turbines feature prominently in other ecological debates.

How renewable energy and visions for a ‘post-scarcity’ economy, might feature in artistic discourse, has found new forms in 21st century practice, most notably in the ramshackle, sculptural, ‘D.I.Y’ aesthetic which has gained momentum over the last few years. This reactionary movement channels a desire to ‘rebuild’ after economic collapse, while echoing trends in new-wave architecture, which proffer sustainable housing solutions and eco-living in the context of urban overpopulation and ecological crisis. Set in Chiang Mai, Thailand, French artist Philippe Parreno’s film Boy from Mars (2003) featured water buffalo, harnessed to a purpose-built shelter and electricity-generating machine, which produced the power for Parreno’s video camera. The resulting film is spectacle which embodies a dialogue between farming, architecture and art. In many ways, Shevlin’s Supernature draws on the visual language and legacy of such canonical works, creating a filmic portrayal of the places where Sci-fi, Speculative Fiction, documentary and socially engaged practice overlap.  Returning to Lyall Watson’s theories on the vast, as yet untapped, and still largely unexploited ability of the human mind, it seems fitting to conclude with this quote.

“We are indeed larvae, eating our way through earth’s resources in a mindless, caterpillar fashion, but I believe that the imago is already beginning to stir within. When the climate is right, it will break out not as some sort of supercomputer, but as an organic being that will embody Supernature, and look back on technology as a childhood toy.”

Info

Biography

Linda Shevlin is a visual artist and curator based in Co. Roscommon, Ireland. Her projects look at the complexities of modernity’s effects on land and the socio-cultural landscape of her environment. Her recent work has drawn attention to the role that certain historical/mythological tropes and characteristics have played in popular culture. Using exhibitions, film, and installations she creates situations that explore the borders of fact, fiction and reality.

She has been the recipient of the Arts Council of Ireland’s Visual Arts Curatorial Residency award for three consecutive years from 2013-2016.  In 2014 she produced a series of events and exhibitions in County Roscommon including a newly commissioned work by Sean Lynch; The Workers, a retrospective of the Art@Work project, featuring Michelle Browne, Gareth Kennedy and Elaine Reynolds and The Workers symposium with contributions from Grizedale Arts and others. In 2015 she is developing a series of situations that will challenge the conventions of working in traditional gallery contexts. The regional visual art programme will take a nomadic approach to making and exhibiting that will involve working with non-arts spaces around the County including museums and parks. Ultimately reflecting on the importance of rural visual art spaces as discursive sites for non-instrumental forms of thought and action.

In 2012 she was awarded one of two inaugural residencies under the Spark Project funded through Leitrim Arts Office & Enterprise Board in partnership with the Arts Council of Ireland. The work produced through this residency was exhibited at The LAB, Dublin in 2014. Other recent exhibitions include Crystal Palace, Breezeblock, Sydney (2014); LOCAL, The Dock, Leitrim (2014); Supernature, Galway Arts Centre (2013); Tulca Festival, Galway, curated by Megs Morley (2011); Circadian, Leitrim Sculpture Centre (2010); Social Capital, curated by Claire McAree, The Dock, Co. Leitrim (2009) and Crave, Cross Gallery, Dublin (2008).

Recent screenings of her films include Camper, TRUCK Space, Calgary, Canada (2013); Interchange, CEFA, Philadelphia, USA (2012); Surface Shorts, Surface Gallery, Nottingham, UK (2011) and Falling Awake Patna Museum, India (2010).

In 2009 Linda completed an MA in Visual Arts Practices through IADT and in 2010, was appointed to the Board of Directors of Visual Artists Ireland. In 2015 she will take up the role of Chairperson of the Board.

Curatorial Statement

My curatorial concerns centre around the production and dissemination of work in rural contexts, how artists make and present work and the support mechanisms that enable its production and also it’s migration beyond the environs in which it was created. Favouring projects that can be developed through dialogical and collaborative approaches, my projects explore community identity, focusing on marginalised or under-represented rural communities.

My interest lies in lesser-known aspects of history, their intersection with the present and how conceptual traditions in art can be unpicked through research in archaeology, history and ethnography. By presenting the work of artists who bring into play memory, hearsay, oral and archival history so as to construct new readings of the past, my curatorial projects aims to lay emphasis on the idea that the visual is an assimilatory process continuously at work in the construction of cultural, political, personal, and national identities.

C.V.

Qualifications

2008

Masters in Visual Arts Practice (Honours)

Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology

1996

Advanced Diploma Fine Art (Honours)

Dublin Institute of Technology, Mountjoy Square, D1

Recent Shows/Screenings

2014

The Crystal Palace

Breezeblock, Sydney

LOCAL

The Dock, Leitrim

Supernature

The LAB, Dublin

2013

Supernature

Screening with TRUCK, Calgary, Canada

Supernature

Galway Arts Centre

Supernature

Higher Bridges Gallery, Enniskillen

Solo Shows

2014

Supernature

The LAB, Dublin

2013

Supernature

Galway Arts Centre

 2010

Circadian

Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Leitrim

(in collaboration with Padraig Cunningham)

Relics & Ruins

The Hammond Gallery, Glengarriff, Co. Cork

2008

Crave            

The Cross Gallery, 59 Francis Street, Dublin 8

2007

The Burning Fields             

The Hammond Gallery, Glengarriff, Co. Cork

2005

Replace             

The Hammond Gallery

2004

Someplace Else            

Hallward Gallery, 65 Merrion Square, Dublin 2

2002

Terra Firma             

Triskel Arts Centre, Tobin St. Cork

2001

Solo x5              

The Model, Sligo

Selected Group Shows

 2011

Tulca / After the Fall

Curated by Megs Morley

Galway Arts Centre

Interchange

Centre for Emerging Artists

Philadelphia, USA

2010

alter / native project at the Boyle Arts Festival

Roscommon

2009

Notions of Capital (curated by Claire McAree)

With Aideen Barry and Carol Anne Connolly

2008

The Cross Gallery at ART08         

The RDS, Dublin

White Noise

Studio six, Temple Bar Galleries & Studios

2007

Convergence              

(Group show of resident artists + Bill Viola,

Hughie O’Donoghue, Caroline Patten & Stephen Kelly)

The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim

2005

A Moment in Time            

Temple Bar Galleries, Dublin

Stoney Batter Studio New Works          

Custom House Gallery, Westport, Mayo

2004

Full Circle             

Temple Bar Galleries, Temple Bar, Dublin

2003

Ground              

Galway Arts Centre, Dominick St,

Galway & Marketplace Arts Centre, Armagh

50/50

Temple Bar Galleries, Temple Bar, Dublin

2002

R.H.A. Annual Exhibition           

R.H.A. Gallagher Gallery, Ely Place, Dublin

Curatorial Projects

2014

Curator in Residence, Roscommon Arts Centre

Exhibiting artists include: Michelle Browne, Vanessa Donozo Lopez, Gareth Kennedy, Sean Lynch, Alice Lyons, Orla Mc Hardy, Eamon O’Kane, Sean Rafferty and Elaine Reynolds.

2010

Sacred Exhibition and Seminar

Enniskillen

alter / native at The Shambles

Boyle Arts Festival

Roscommon

Minutiae

Suki Chan (UK) and Oisin Byrne (IRL)

Roscommon Arts Centre

Awards & Residencies

2014

Visual Arts Curator in Residence Scheme

Awarded by Arts Council of Ireland

2012

Recipient of Spark Residency at The Organic Centre, Rossinver

Supported by Leitrim Arts Office & Leitrim Enterprise Board

Art@Work Residency

Awarded by Roscommon County Arts Office

2010

Capital Grant*

Arts Council of Ireland

Individual Artists Bursary

Roscommon Arts Office

Small Festivals Bursary (for alter / native 2010)

Roscommon Arts Office

2008

Artist in Residence 2005 – 2008

The Dock Art Centre, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim

Individual Artists Bursary

Roscommon Arts Office

2001

Arts Council of Ireland Artist’s Bursary

Collections

Office of Public Works, AXA Insurance, De Vere White,

Private Collections in Ireland, The U.K., Europe and The U.S.A.

Publications /Texts

2014

Supernature: Converging at the ‘soft edges’ of science, nature and the visual arts

by Joanne Laws

2013

Art @Work 2012

Published by Roscommon County Arts Office

2009

Reimagining the Hierarchy of Monuments

Building Material. Architect Association of Ireland Journal, issue 19

2008

Crave

Published in association with The Cross Gallery, Dublin & Roscommon County Council

 Other

 Appointed to Board of Directors Visual Artists Ireland

The all -Ireland representative body for professional

visual artists in 2010.

*Awarded for application on behalf of the alter / native project

 

 

 

 

Contact

Linda Shevlin
Tivanagh School
Cloonloo
Boyle
Co. Roscommon
Ireland
 
linda@lindashevlin.com
+353 86 605 2571
+353  71 966 4606