Exploring the elements

Tara Bradbury
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Exhibition examines humanity’s interactions with the natural world

It’s a sculptural game of chance: you softly spin the wheel and see what plant or animal the universe chooses for you. Will it be the bee, which you swat and squish on your window, but would otherwise make honey or cross-pollinate flowers? Or the daffodil, one example of air-purifying plant life? Maybe a whale, raven or mushroom?

“I chose each plant or animal in this game of chance to symbolize an essential component in our eco-system,” explains artist Susan Lee Stephen. “I created this micro-ecosystem here in the gallery to highlight how the minute effects we have on eco-systems every day have a reciprocal impact that we may not even think about.”

“Chance,” Stephen’s pinwheel sculpture, is part of “Elemental Nexus,” an exhibit of work running in the main gallery of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador Stephen, Urve Manuel, Heather Mills and Colette Samson explore themes of the four elements — water, earth, air and fire — and of interaction in the natural world and in relation to humankind, using metal sculpture, jewelry and glass.

Stephen often uses animal and plant life in her jewelry pieces, which are worked in silver, copper, bronze, brass and semi-precious stones. She is also known for using her own photography as inspiration, etching photos onto the metal before manipulating it. In “Elemental Nexus,” her jewelry takes the form of small sculptures.

“I want my jewelry to invite reflection on our interaction with, and impact on, the environment around us,” she writes in her artist statement. “I examine the way we label creatures around us to suit our own agenda, and in so doing, shift the blame for our own missteps as humankind to the feet of creatures who are just doing their best to adapt to an environment we have thrust upon them.”

Among Stephen’s other pieces in the exhibition: “Adrift,” a group of pendants featuring endangered birds in flight, hung in a flock, and “Alas, a Forest of Glass,” a metal sculpture of a city landscape with one skyscraper made of glass. Inside the glass tower is a pendant of a dead bird, reflecting how cities impact the bird population.

“Every year, millions of birds die as they attempt to navigate our cities,” Stephen writes. “Our architectural propensity for using glass as a reflective surface, to reflect the sky or the trees — often to give the illusion that the structure isn’t substantially there at all — works all too well, unfortunately, in fooling bird populations.

“Our desire for bigger, better, more illusory-type structures must be balanced with the impact these trompe l’oeil have on our feathered friends.”

Samson, of Gillams, has used metal and glass to create a body of work she calls “Breath.” She has used copper wire to tie together thin pieces of colourful, textured glass, exploring, she says, what is left behind — the physical empty space — when a living being dies.

Included in her pieces is one representing her grandfather casting his net — a delicately formed of glass — over the water. Colourful feather forms on the wall represent his presence.

“Through an invisible movement in the air, a transfer of energy into the atmosphere or other organisms occurs,” Manuel writes. “Perhaps this energy is recreated only in memories triggered by previous activities or belongings known to be closely attached to the lives of the departed.”

Mills has also used glass, experimenting with kiln formed techniques by suspending beach rocks, for example, resulting in pieces that are both delicate but weighty. Inspired by the province’s coastline, Mills says she creates work that is intentionally stark and abstract, in order to provide a sense of power and mystery.

Samson, a Newfoundland-born glass artist from Nova Scotia, has used fused glass techniques like kiln carving and fritography (painting with crushed glass) to reflect the colour and texture of nature in this province, producing three-dimensional work that is vivid and textured. Pieces belong to her “Limestone Barrens” series, which she says are inspired by the earth tones of Newfoundland.

“Elemental Nexus” will run at the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador gallery, 59 Duckworth St., until June 14.



Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Craft Council

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia

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