Nathalie Holbrook: Land and Tide at An Talla Solais
When one uses the term "earth art" or "land art", for me it instantly recalls the vast scale of seminal 1970-80s American works like Walter De Maria's Lightning Field in New Mexico from 1977, or Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty on the shore of the Great Salt Lake, Utah from 1970. But there is a differentiation to be made between art made on the land and art made from it. Artist Nathalie Holbrook, whose work I first saw in Edinburgh at InterviewRoom11's exhibition of VERGES | The Wild Project, takes a much more delicate approach to earth art. Working both inside and in nature--in situ--she uses raw natural materials like twigs, reeds, and stones to address pressing issues of land use as well as ideas of home, tradition, and society.
Ullapool is a town of about 1300 residents that sits on Loch Broom in the Northwest Scottish Highlands, surrounded by rugged, mountainous terrain. An Talla Solais, Ullapool's contemporary art center, opened a new space inside The Caledonian Hotel in the center of the community this month, commencing the 2015 exhibition season in a bright, accessible space with Holbrook's exhibition Land and Tide. The exhibition is a collection of works brought together as drawings, stories and installations that have come from the land, including works from Scotland, Czech Republic, Poland and Canada. She describes herself as an environmental artist who is inspired by the land and people's connection to it:
The community that I grew up in is now fighting to maintain the green agricultural land around us and the futures of the people who work, live and thrive on the land. This has become hugely significant to my work, and is the history of our land and a tale that must be told. My latest body of work has brought together stories, installations and drawings exploring home, land and the values put on something that has become no more than another commodity.
Her pieces warmly inhabit the space with a sense of comfortable homeyness that belies the questions underlying that very idea. The theme of craft evident in the knitted fiber and woven grasses allude to traditional craftwork throughout Scotland, and signal a struggle to maintain tradition. It both looks back on the history of people's relationship to this land that they once called home and looks forward toward the possibility that the connection to land, craft, and tradition is in danger of disappearing entirely. Tide-tossed stones are delicately suspended from the ceiling--if they were to swing too far in one direction, the weight of the stone might snap the wire, upsetting the balance, and providing another metaphor for the fragility of the human connection to the land, both environmentally and socially. She explains:
I worked within the landscape around Ullapool and brought stories of current circumstances of my home and its surrounding land to make the series 'Here' and 'Home is Here'. Through repetitive drawings I explored what the eye sees: what remains in a landscape and what created the emptiness of our now known wilderness. How is it that any homeland can have such vast expanses of home'less' homes. How have the shells of these homes become so grotesquely picturesque but the stories behind them forgotten to many. Moreover how can this still be occurring in the name of change and progress. Through text works I relate this to contemporary situations and incredibly real prospects for many of todays citizens.
The multimedia combination of photography, drawing and installation recalls a past, present and future -- and a strong sense of being, or having been, in a place where geology and ecological history has an acute impact on the visitor. Like standing in an open field or looking across a panoramic expanse of land from the summit of a mountain, Holbrook's works heighten the viewer's awareness of their own relationship to land and the environment. She does this is in an elegantly understated way that connects the feeling of home to our understanding of the environment and our place in it.
At the root of the exhibition is the idea that all entities have a home and story. Holbrook aims to uncover and assess the geological, ecological and social histories of these entities and to draw in particular on the concept of home making.
More information on Nathalie Holbrook and examples of past work can be found at nathalieholbrook.com. Land and Tide runs through 10 May at The Caledonian Hotel, West Argyle Street, Ullapool.
All images courtesy of the artist and © Jacek Hubner.