It’s not often that we get to stop and smell the flowers, or even really look at them. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have found that the mundanity of adult life gets in the way of a lot of the grand plans you make growing up. It’s amazing, for instance, how much of your time ends up being devoured by laundry and grocery shopping, let alone your commute. Visiting Valeria Nascimento’s new exhibition at Woolf Gallery reminds you just how much you end up missing when you lose yourself in the bustle of daily life and encourages you to slow right down.
Nascimento is a Brazilian artist who has been working with porcelain since 1986, preferring its malleability and texture to more traditional materials. The result here is a series of wall installations consisting of delicate representations of flowers, coral and anemones in various arrangements. Several installations are repeated in both black and white, which makes me wonder whether the artist is offering a commentary on the human effect on nature. However, deep analysis isn’t the point of a show like this; this is beauty for the sake of being beautiful, art for the sake of art. And really, it’s not often that you encounter work dedicated solely to being aesthetically lovely.
What is particularly engaging here is the emphasis on parts of nature that you don’t tend to focus on when they appear in works of art. If you look at a Monet water lily scene, for instance, you take in the image as a whole, and even when you allow your eyes to wander they don’t focus on individual leaves or flowers. Nascimento’s Lotus Installation, in contrast, is a series of circular porcelain cups representing lotus leaves that from a distance look like circles on a white board, but close-up are precise representations of real leaves that have been shaped by nature. You gain a lot more in terms of appreciation of form when the components of a natural scene are broken down into individual pieces.
It’s unusual at a time when art feels the need to say something – or indeed shout something – about the artist, their beliefs or their environment, to encounter work that focuses on beauty alone but it’s also refreshing. After all, there really is nothing wrong with art that isn’t political, or offering a searing social commentary to remind the viewer of everything that is wrong with the world. It’s actually wonderful to be surrounded by art that lets you take a breather and realise that there is really a lot of beauty to be appreciated when you slow down and look around.
-- Alex Field, a writer living in London.
All images courtesy the Woolff Gallery