SOIL Review by Naomi Boult

Sharon Singer’s solo show, the aptly named Soil, seems to be a departure from the general tenor of a gallery’s earlier exhibitions, as well as from her own well-developed style. Singer’s works, which have in the past been densely populated by her own personal lexicon of mythical archetypes, are now almost entirely uninhabited. Instead, they seem to envision the raw emptiness of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. In these latest works Singer uses bold expressive brushstrokes to pay homage to the beauty of nature, but there is also a darkness which lurks just below the surface. These landscapes are not a backdrop to humanity, but rather a subject rife with their own ominous narrative and atmosphere. The early 20th century neo-romantics depicted similarly evocative landscapes and were significantly affected by the zeitgeist of war time Europe. Singer appears to have explored this concept in a contemporary setting, utilizing the modern fear of the ever present precipice of disaster to instill her landscapes with a foreboding resonance.

In two of her Postcard series Singer uses a predominantly ochre and charcoal palette, creating landscapes that seem to perpetually exist in the moments just before nightfall. The two other works from the same series depict a different vista. One is awash with muted cold light, the other in burning shades of red and orange. As different as these paintings are, they are all united by a common element. There is a desolate beauty to these works which reminds us that, in the absence of humanity, the topography of the land remains constant.

The brooches on display are to my mind, an intriguing combination of the Dutch tradition of Vanitas and Victorian mourning jewelry. Singer has worked in wearable art in the past, and these pieces demonstrate that art need not always be relegated to a gallery environment. Where Vanitas, with their skulls and rotting fruit, served as a reminder of mortality, and mourning jewelry has traditionally served as a reminder of a particular lost loved one, these ornate brooches adorned with painted skulls, seem to provide a subtle commentary on the universal transience of life.

The insidious presence of death is further explored in Dead Sea Mermaid, one of the two works in this show which is occupied by human or humanlike figures. The serpentine skeletal form of the mermaid is draped in colourful Mardi Gras beads, dutifully earned given the figure’s ghostly outline of breasts. By contrast the work Prey which hangs on the adjacent wall, features the Virgin Mary running a rosary of skulls through her hands, her blue robes blending into the surrounding imagery. This work is further populated by a combination of old and new, reality and make-believe. In this world a rather startled looking anthropomorphised hot air balloon, a lonely moa and a modern day boat, all become part of the same mythology. These elements collectively offer the viewer an impression of playfulness that is engaging but which also generates a sense of unease. This combination of gravity and celebration resonates throughout Soil, and provides an interesting premise for willing viewers to follow through the exhibition.


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Conceived as a two-year project, ‘a gallery’ opened in February 2011 at 393 Princes Street, Dunedin and closed in September 2012. Strategically placed south of the center of town nestled between tattoo studios, sex shops and a needle exchange. What was integral in the selection of the gallery space was that it would be able to be viewed from the street through the street level floor to ceiling windows. This would allow the artists showing to be exposed not only to viewers visiting the gallery, but also those walking past, as a gallery was to represent artists that did not fit within the commercial gallery context or the so called experimental project space’s, this would be the best way to expose a particular group of artists selected by gallery curator/manager Jay Hutchinson, artists he respected and admired and felt were not being represented in the gallery scene at the time.

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