The sparse, dramatic landscape of Burren, Ireland, inspired a stunning suite of works by Gillian Turner, on show at the Dennys Lascelles Gallery. Titled Gathering Places, the exhibition includes ink drawings, paintings, photographs and documentation of installations completed during her two residencies at Burren College of Art, Ballyvaughan in 2009-10.
Turner describes Burren as ‘one of the most amazing places on earth. It is like a moonscape – virtually treeless and quite confronting. There is nothing apparently there but when you actually get close to it, you see little landscapes. You can find tiny, exquisite wildflowers supported by the rock. The fragility of this environment stayed with me. I am interested in the surface of the landscape and how we treat it.”
The lonely beauty of Burren spans some 250 kilometres of grey karstic limestone. The rocks are scored with cracks (grikes) and underneath the surface, rambling labyrinths of caves and subterranean water systems can be found. It is an unusual place, rich in Irish faerie mythology, sacred sites and shrines.
Similar to John Wolseley, Turner harnesses the elements of nature to create her work. Some images have been created by the effects of rain and sun, others by the action of waves or the movement of ink-stained paper over rocky surfaces. The colours tend to be earthy, borrowed from the landscape, and the shapes are fluid and organic, reminiscent of contour maps or geological layers. Her ink works are powerful yet delicate, disciplined yet ephemeral. Shapes emerge and recede, defying definition and emanating a visceral intensity.
Drawing is central to her practice and it is evident she has a special interest in ink work. Old Wall Remains, an ink work created with fat calligraphic brushes, has a Japanese sensibility, showing the influence of Turner’s sojourn in Japan several years ago.
Photography is also an important aspect to her work. She often photographs her work and sometimes the photo itself becomes the artwork. Burren Landscape #2 is a striking example of this process. She experimented with inks and masking tape, creating multiple layers by flooding the paper with ink and allowing it to dry before repeating the action with new masks. She photographed it and was so happy with the result, it became the artwork. It gives a real sense of the geological layers of rock and the water reservoirs underneath. The juxtaposition of different textured artworks, such as the smooth, glossy surface of the photography prints with the crinkled surface of water-effected paper makes an interesting contrast in the exhibition.
Turner’s works reflect her sensitivity to the environment and the fragility of the natural landscape. Fragile Surface (installation) is a series of tiny gauzy, gossamery ‘shrouds’ that could blow away in one breath of wind. The muslin pieces were stiffened with diluted glue, and the marks and colourings were created by the action of rain and ink. Turner installed the objects on the Burren rocks for about two hours.
“For that time there were only very gentle breezes that occasionally stirred one or two pieces – very unusual on the west coast of Ireland!” says Gillian. “I took a series of photographs and in some, the objects look so much like the rocks that they seem to disappear. The large image I chose for the exhibition shows the vast Burren landscape and emphasises the fragility of the rocks and the installed objects facing the potential fury of storms from the Atlantic Ocean.”
The fact that the installation no longer exist seems to allude to the eventual erosion of the rock surface year by year. On another level, the fleeting nature of the installation demonstrates Turner’s belief that art doesn’t necessarily need to be permanent or in a gallery space.
Turner has a deep emotional resonance with Ireland and is returning there in 2011 for an artist/writer residency at Cill Rialaig. It will be fascinating to see what this pioneering artist brings back from that experience.
Gathering Places is on until 19 November at the new Dennys Lascelles Exhibition Gallery, Deakin University, Waterfront Campus, Geelong (near the corner of Cunningham St and The Esplanade), and is open from 10– 4 weekdays.