Sunday, 16 December 2012

Bon Hiver (art)

The French greeting 'Bon Hiver' meaning 'Good Winter' is traditionally used on the first day that the snowfall sticks to the ground. It has been co-opted for the Towner's new exhibition of winter landscapes featuring work by Christopher Wood, William Gear, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Duncan Grant, Joachim Koester, Edward Stott and Eric Ravilious. There is also a series of photographs by video artist Kelly Richardson whose solo exhibition, Legion, will be shown at the Towner from February to April, and perhaps the 'star' of Bon Hiver which is The Forked Forest Path by Olafur Eliasson. This was acquired by the Towner in 2003 but has not been shown in the new building until now.

The Forked Forest Path by Olafur Eliasson
The Forked Forest Path takes up the whole first room of the Bon Hiver exhibition. There is a wonderful scent from the sweet chestnut branches and I thought it was a magical experience wandering along the the narrow pathways between the 'trees'. The gallery assistant I spoke to described it as meditative. She explained that they haven't been able to show the work before now because the branches need to be cut at the right time of year and 2012 is the first occasion this has coincided with an appropriate exhibition.

Also on show is Camp by Kelly Richardson, a hypnotic video installation of a full moon distorted by the heat vapour from a fire. The photograph Hiatus by Mircea Cantor shows a Romanian forest scene but with the central tree having been carved into a mysterious dovetailed device. I found this image quite unsettling and was also unnerved by Landscape 268 by John Virtue, an artist whose work I have admired at the Towner on previous visits. Landscape 268 is a large monochrome painting where glimpses of roofs and a lane are visible in an expanse of abstract shapes and dripping black lines. To me, it felt as if this painting was on the cusp of resolving itself into some nightmarish scene and I wasn't to keen to turn my back on it! However, just behind - don't back away from the Virtue or you'll crash into it! - is a fabulous miniature underwater sculpture entitled Sea Of Ice. Created by Mariele Neudecker, this is a clear glass tank filled with dyed water obscuring a sunken ship. Different aspects of the ship are visible from each side of the tank and I enjoyed discovering the work. 

The third room contains paintings and drawings including Starlight Landscape by Edward Stott, a painting I first saw and loved at the Towner in an exhibition several years ago now. I wasn't expecting to see it again in Bon Hiver so was pleased to 'bump into' it again. The single tree image is bleak but I could spend ages staring into it, imagining myself there. Local winter scenes are provided by Claude Muncaster with the familiar scenery in watercolour, Snow On The Sussex Downs, and a Frank Wootton oil on canvas, Windover In Winter. From further afield, I especially liked Gilbert Mason's Hyde Park, Leeds, a study in gouache on paper, because it is the only scene that depicts winter as wet and windy rather than a snowy idyll. 

Finally I took the other fork in the path on the way out to see Nordenskiold and The Ice Cap by Joachim Koestler, a slide show of photographs taken in Greenland. This work was fascinating as it really  played with my sense of perspective. Many of the slides are of snowscapes with no other point of reference so I found it very hard to tell if I was seeing a small patch of snow close to the camera or a wide view looking miles ahead.

Towner Gallery, Sat 1st Dec 2012 to Sun 3rd Mar 2013.
Tue - Sun, 10:00 - 18:00. Free admission.

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