Previewing the Graduate Show, digitally presented due to COVID-19 – I was immediately engaged by way these student works were presented as a whole – the visual language was given precedence. Scrolling through the site from portfolio to portfolio – there was a flow that allowed me to experience the individual works in relation to each other as well as to discern an artist’s portfolio closely and read texts from each artist about their practice. Overall, I was able to see patterns and confluences from one portfolio to another, one discipline to another. This was a fulfilling approach to experiencing the students’ work without actually walking through the studios. I was eager to glimpse how they are addressing their lockdown experience and the ever-present urgency of issues their generation will address, while continuing the rigour of making a portfolio of artwork.
I chose to reflect on Harmony Bury’s Materiality in the Scottish Landscape, a body of work exploring mindfulness around her relationship with Nature and the role humans have played in changing the natural ecosystem of her native Scotland over time. Gathering materials from nature to create process- based artworks, Harmony processes the grief over some of what she has observed and explores ways she can bring awareness through developing her artistic practice. Her work is a poetic, attentive mediation on the natural world and the ecological imbalance and separation through a certain human control and exploitation over time.
Absent (2020), is an artwork dedicated to the loss of certain animals from the landscape, affecting the topography and the essential nature of the land. Harmony has created a beautifully crafted fur blanket made from pine needles denoting an imaginary creature that for her ‘sparks wonder amongst the feeling of ecological grief’. I am reminded of Jeanette Winterson’s words in her afterward for a 2014 edition of Nan Shepherd’s masterpiece The Living Mountain: ‘For me, the imaginative world is the total world, not a world shredded and packed into compartments’. Winterson continues, ‘Imagination allows us to experience ourselves and our world as something that is relational and interdependent.’
With the photo series Pollen Compositions (2020), Harmony has carefully composed the fragile bright yellow pollen of Scots pines that she observed blowing through the forest. The pollen is assiduously arranged on a black material, then photographed, and then released back into the air of the forest.
The movement, energy and delicacy found in a forest are captured in Return, (2020). The video could be a transcendent journey, a culmination of this particular portfolio of work and her artistic process up through this point. Returning to her parents’ home in northern Scotland during lockdown, she continued her practice by spending time in the forests, reflecting on her practice. And she spent time returning many of the materials that she had collected to make the artworks: planting acorns back into the ground on which she had originally found them, placing some peat ash onto the mossy forest floor to be captured by the winds, returning pine cones to their particular forest, and placing the young oak plantlings into the ground where the acorns from which she grew them were originally found. Assembled observantly, this artwork serves as a portal through which to enter her artistic process as well as an apex point which marks the end one stage and beginning of the next stage of development in her artistic practice.
(Digitally) attending an annual weekend on philosophy, I reflected back on Harmony’s work as I heard discussions on the importance of what some would call a virtuous life, on how to be observant and how to see what is in front of us in a new and/or deeper way. Listening to Fauzia Rahman-Greasley’s session on Life: Facts, Fictions and Leaps of Imagination, I was struck by Iris Murdoch’s book of essays The Sovereignty of Good. Writing about freedom and attention Murdoch states, ‘it is a function of the progressive attempt to see a particular object clearly.’ Further on she relates, “The idea of ‘objective reality’ […] undergoes important modifications when it is to be understood, not in relation to the ‘world described by science’, but in relation to the progressing life of a person.”
Based in Glasgow and Oxford, Lauren Dyer Amazeen is an art critic, writer, lecturer, tutor, as well as an independent producer and a Board development consultant.