Caroline Dear: entwined / suainte

12 Jul 2011 in Highland, Showcase, Visual Arts & Crafts

Inverness Museum & Art Gallery, Inverness, until 6 August 2011

THIS latest Craft Spotlight exhibition by Skye based artist Caroline Dear highlights the essential link between humankind and the environment in its exploration of natural materials and traditional skills.

Since February 2011 Dear has documented her research and process in a blog (see below) creating 100 ropes from 50 types of plants found near her home. Displayed on the gallery wall, the seasonal progression of this work reads like a large scale three dimensional drawing, with variations of texture, hue and line allowing the unique qualities of each plant to be contemplated. The range and subtlety of colour, affected by natural processes of growth and decay and the progression of light across the Northern landscape, positions the work in terms of geography, while the tagging of each piece classified scientifically presents vital elements within a unique ecosystem.

Detail from Caroline Dear's 100 ropes

Detail from Caroline Dear's 100 Ropes

The viewer is also aware of the human mark in Dear’s crafting of this material, exemplified in the display of Rope, String and Thread: sculptural coils of Silver Birch (Betula pendula), Purple Moor Grass (Molinia cacrulea) and Hair moss (Polytrichum commune), presenting shifting scales of strength and vulnerability. Transformation of this raw material through human action and the rhythm of each weave linked to land and sea is evocative not only of location, but of the meaning and value of Craft practice in the wider context of human history. Dear’s work is both uniquely local and naturally global in scope.

Adjacent to the main work of 100 ropes a poem links form to function in the coil-like arrangement of text and in the first word of each line; to “pull, fasten, lead, tether, bind, secure, snare, lash, bind, tie, connect, link and entwine”. The rhythm of the poem is like an evocation, a bridge between language, human kind and the natural world that echoes a work such as Carmina Gadelica.

The sense in which visual language through Craft and Gaelic language are equally embedded in the landscape are suggested in Catherine Weir’s film of the artist at work accompanied by Gaelic song, performed by Anne Martin. The simple imagery of this film, the rhythm of the artist’s hand at work, human scale in the landscape; lying in the grass looking skyward or gathering materials and the composition of coils of rope displayed as singular contemplative pieces are effective in making visual connections between creative process, the poetics of visual language indigenous in the Highlands and Islands and the natural environment.

Detail from Caroline Dear's Birch Ball of Rope

Detail from Caroline Dear's Birch Ball of Rope

As part of the Making Progress HI~Arts craft mentoring initiative supporting mid-career artists, it is exciting to see this latest development in Dear’s work. The way the artist has explored these raw materials, together with their environmental and cultural context is an invigorating precursor to her residency at Edinburgh Printmakers as part of the RSA Residencies for Scotland 2011 awards, and her imminent Highland Craft residency at Cove Park in Argyll. The foundation of Dear’s previous sculptural and installation work together with this intensive period of development, significantly stretching her practice and use of materials, will be an important catalyst for further professional and creative development.

This quality has been richly evident in each successive Making Progress Craft Spotlight show thus far, in which individual artists have made progressive leaps in their practice through an investment of time for creative evolution of both technique and ideas and professional development through mentoring.

Caroline Dear and entwined

Caroline Dear and entwined

The consistency of this programme in facilitating professional and creative evolution, raising the profile of Craft practice, celebrating the quality of work by artists living and working in the Highlands and Islands and making this visible to a wider audience is a model for future investment. This latest exhibition by Caroline Dear is no exception and represents a significant milestone in the artist’s evolution. Here we see Dear’s visual language distilled in her focused investigation of materials and in her exploration of the cultural landscape of Craft.

This exhibition gives a tantalising glimpse of the potential scope of the artist’s work when the integrity of creative process seen in her handling of materials meet future exploration of scale and structure. Human architecture has always been a compelling element in Dear’s work, a dialogue between organic and manmade structures which appears ready to reach a whole new level of practice.

© Georgina Coburn, 2011