Sunday, 9 October 2011

Rachel Goodyear 'Modifications of the Host' Yorkshire Sculpture Park 1st October 2011

My second visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park this year and again at the invitation of The CultureVulture to a special bloggers' preview. This time I was there to see Rachel Goodyear's new show in the Bothy Gallery called 'Modifications of the Host'. The weather last time I was there was glorious and this autumnal evening we were blessed again with the last sunshine of a short Indian summer. It was lovely to see Jaume Plensa's sculptures, catching the light and reflecting the sky and glass of wine in hand we were all a little reluctant to leave the view behind and go into the gallery. A short introduction from our hosts and Rachel told us about her work and importantly the collaborations she has forged learning new skills in porcelain and stop-motion animation to complement her drawing. It turned out that she has spent time getting to know the park and some of the work we were to see was inspired by her experiences there.

The Bothy Gallery is quite a small space so it suited Rachel's small-scale intimately detailed pieces perfectly. Slightly confusingly for the eager blogger, there were no labels in sight. I was wondering how easy it would be to identify work from my descriptions alone but then I noticed the laminated room maps with labels. It may have been the glass of wine but these weren't as easy to follow as they might have been and I spent some time twisting my copy around (along with my head) trying to work out what I was looking at!

'Bad Berries' Rachel Goodyear
'Escapologist' Rachel Goodyear

There was some useful introductory text but I had also checked out Rachel Goodyear's website beforehand and this quote from David Beech interested me the most: "Nothing is at home in these works, as if the world had been tapped lightly and everything had stumbled into unfamiliar positions". Once actually in the presence of her work I felt as if it was more like I had given a shove and ended up in a world not quite the same as the one I thought I was in. 'Restless Sleeper' was the first drawing to catch my eye - it takes several seconds to realise what you are looking at but you finally see a naked woman, apparently asleep and with a wild boar fused to her body. The blackness of the animal's hair stands out again the stark white flesh of the woman who twists her head to one side. The stiff legs and cloven hooves of the beast draw the eye and in my notes I wrote the words 'possession'; 'the devil' and 'succubus' - I was thinking of medieval beliefs in evil spirits who possess people's bodies while they sleep. Next up was a tiny porcelain head called 'Bad Berries' set in a wasteland of white wall. Tiny white berries protruded from the mouth and eye sockets in a thoroughly disturbing way while the head was wearing a set of long ears. I immediately thought of the film 'Donnie Darko' and then of Bottom in 'A Midsummer's Nights Dream'. Were they rabbit ears or those of a donkey? Humans wearing long ears appeared in several of Rachel's pieces it turned out and I began to see them as symbolising people who were somehow possessed by nature or maybe apeing being part of nature. In the case of 'Bad Berries', nature seems to have struck back in a very unpleasant way.

The random cruelty of nature seemed well-represented by the limp porcelain corpses of two birds on a white plinth titled 'Escapologist'. From the beak of one a pencil drawing of more bird corpses seeps and drips down the side of the plinth like all those other unnoticed generations of dead birds that each one carries in its DNA. 'The Perils of Falling Asleep in the Woods I & II' shows two porcelain creatures both of whom are being overwhelmed and absorbed into the forest floor. Their bodies rot into leaf litter and lichen.

A room at the end of the gallery is given over to a projected stop motion animation called 'Woodman'. A strange scarecrow human with a sack for a head stands with his feet among dried and rustling vines, odd noises play and eventually mossy growths appear all over him only to vanish back into his flesh and clothing again in the blink of an eye. His blank dark holes for eyes stare out at you while the soundtrack booms and whispers, a man of the wild, gamekeeper, woodsman, men you rarely meet unless you are in the middle of a dark wood where maybe you are trespassing.

The Perils of Falling Asleep in the Woods
I began to see patterns in the work from this point - the humans with masked or hidden heads, that seem to be 'becoming' or possessed by animals; the bodies that bleed and rot back into their natural constituents and finally the animal world that seems to have been distorted and altered by the human. And dominating them all the little red pan-like horned creatures that dance and celebrate the fact that humans will never escape their ties to nature, in the end we all rot back into the soil. Sometimes we embrace it, most of the time we fight it. Rachel shows us that it will always defeat us. That hidden world that we often can only experience at night because we have driven it so far away from our normal lives, a hidden world that is still just waiting for us however much we deny it.

A truly remarkable and disturbing show then which has had me thinking for days now about that false veil we draw between the human and natural worlds. And as a final gift from that latter world, as I was leaving a huge crescent moon rose and far away in the dark I could hear geese calling to each other, not a human within miles of them.

Rachel Goodyear's 'Modifications of the Host' continues at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park until 3rd January 2012.

Thank you again to Emma The Culture Vulture for the invitation and to YSP for hosting us.