White Cube! Calm and confidently pretty, it tolerates exhibits on the severe condition of no nails or screws on the walls, or anywhere.
In the centre of the room the greenhouse housed a chair, writing desk and a box. Outside, a shelving with more boxes, with more brown envelopes. The bench at the far wall equipped with two headphones was a listening point to stories previous visitors wrote and Clark recorded.
The row of ink and charcoal drawings of plants are clipped to a horizontal line on the wall. More drawings were scanned onto brown envelopes containing seeds and arranged as a grid leaning against an opposite wall.
The three groups interact.
The audience are invited to bring seeds ( in my presence, a woman brought seeds shaped like red heart, collected in Mexico), then sit in the greenhouse at the desk and write a story about the plant, how they nurtured the seeds, and the plant, and what it meant to them.
Clark made a flow from one group of objects to another and to another a tool for growth rooted in free exchange and shared belief in value of seeds. This idea is akin a social ceremony of the kind assumed to be at the birth of paleolithical cave paintings. It has been established that a surface damage on Altamira wall paintings is indication that paintings were touched or wounded – possibly in the belief that a successful future hunt will be secured.
With those early works of art, Dispersal shares a belief that manipulating an artwork has a corresponding effect in the real world.
While gathering seeds and exchanging seeds for stories, both share with that ancient belief its indeterminacy, Clark’s concept is nevertheless more direct, and independent of magic. Unless, we accept that the seeds may or may not germinate as a function of extraneous power, of which we have only partial knowledge.
Search for knowledge, invention of classification and botanical nomenclature make appearance in Clark’s use of scientific names. After that she departs from the tradition of botanical illustration. Its oldest surviving example is said to be the Codex Vindobonensis, a copy of Dioscorides, De Materia Medica.
Such drawings or watercolours depended on observation and later on scientific knowledge to ascertain the form, colour and detail of each plant correctly.
Clark applies the criterion of correctness, but feels free to focus on some parts only. The following comparison of her drawing of vetch with a photo image of the plant illustrates her decision what from the observed is allowed to settle on the page.
The delicate drawing of vicia sativa aligns more to an alien insect or a map that the lush bushy plant. Clark’s reductive process operates economy of means that is trusted to remove the threat of imitation. Her drawing claims kinship with embroidery, the marvel of a thread connecting what was separate. It enjoys also a fluency known from handwriting.
It is unfortunate that in this culture a medium should influence the value of art. William Morris made an attempt to remedy that when he called so called lesser arts( i.e. hand craft, weaving, pottery etc) life supporting. This exhibition is life supporting by focusing on seeds as promise of future harvest.
Clark has seen, in the Belfast gallery PS Square (July 2010), the exhibition Plant Drawings. A stall with perennial flowers was transported to it from the St George Market. Visitors were allowed to take one plant if they made a drawing of it first. The collection of drawings was later taken back to the market. The emphasis was on the non artist, on amateurs who loved flowers.
The Dispersal also expected public commitment, the relationship between objects and generosity of spirit. Dealing with a subject that belongs to those “lesser arts” (growing plants) the artist has to protect both the art and what is outside art, when often art and life are at odds with each other.
Only rarely, she slipped from strict observation into intoxication of imagination. I sensed her need to breath life into the head of agapanthus by weaving shapes over one another.
This delicate drawing professes another departure from the botanical illustration with panache: no need for the multicoloured informative completeness. Just one stronger black short line under the flower head – enough to believe that it is a three-dimensional stem.
Whereas the thistle got the more traditional treatment.
Except – what are the marks above it? Well – smudges. Less careful artist may leave them without considering their impact. Clark is meticulous in all she includes. And seeing the non-defining marks on another of the sheets – I came to think of them as transformatory.
Like the Altamira paintings these drawings were touched with fingers that transformed the seen into believable. The marks are witnesses of that process, sincere witnesses.
Seeds are delicate, fly in the air, without knowing their final destination, they find it by chance. Clark’s drawings have similar ambition and fate.