Kate MccGwire’s sculptures occupy a liminal space between nature, science and art. Made from masses of delicate feathers, her impossible creatures spill from gallery walls or crouch in dimly lit vitrines. As seen in works such as Splice – an oversized braid of magpie feathers tumbling delicately from a metal ligature – questions of power and fear are always ominously present. Does the impulse to preserve and display dead animals reflect humanity’s power over nature? Or does it show, perhaps subconsciously, our fear of nature’s mysterious and predatory ways?
At Lure, a solo exhibition at All Visual Arts in London, MccGwire’s fascination with feathers is showcased in an impressive body of work, disturbing conventional notions of natural history. Unlike the carefully preserved animals we see in museums, MccGwire’s creatures are ultimately abstract. Taking on the museum’s associations of dominance and display, her work, in the gallery’s words, creates ‘an impossible menagerie’ where the beauty and darkness of nature are powerfully revealed.
The array of sculptures in the exhibition is exquisite. Gyre, for example, seems to snake through the gallery – a huge, undulating wave of crow feathers, segueing from the sinister to the sublime. By contrast, the wall-based works in the show are a bit of a pale accompaniment to her entrancing sculptures and installations. Mounted in wooden frames or emerging from panels of lead, MccGwire’s arrangements of magpie, pigeon, jay and mallard features are beautiful, but lack the conceptual resonance of her three-dimensional work.
In MccGwire’s words, her sculptures are “senuous and sensual, but there’s a sort of blackness [and] darkness to them that’s suffocating or disturbing or disgusting in some way”. Imbued with aesthetic and emotional intensity, it’s the beautiful blackness of her work that makes it powerful. Darkness oozes from her serpentine sculptures; peers, owl-like, from her inhabited cabinets. The almost nightmarish quality of her work elevates it to the level of the sublime, adding depth, ambiguity and a terrible kind of beauty.
Artist: Kate MccGwire
Details: All Visual Arts, King’s Cross, London, 23 November 2012–16 February 2013
First published: Aesthetica magazine blog, March 2012. View the published article on Aesthetica here