Works 1992 – 2002


Wrought Iron Mist

Image 2 of 13

University Gallery
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA

This exhibition combined new Mandrake Tango works, sculpture, monotypes and c-types with a retrospective of photographs 1992-2002.

University Gallery, Amherst, Mass. Let’s begin this consideration of the work of British artist Liz Rideal by reflecting on the significance of two disparate objects: plant roots and photo-booths. They are homely, ordinary, hardly the precious stuff of fine art. But they are central to Rideal’s oeuvre, a survey of which is on view at the University Gallery, Amherst. The roots appear as sculpture and as photographic subject her latest work. The remains of Night Scented Stock, pulled from her London garden at the end of the growing season, they assumed new life when Rideal, recognising the artistic potential of their energetic forms, cast them in bronze. Transformed and arranged in groupings, they call to mind other states of being. “Mandrake Tango” renders the essence of the dance, its two root systems executing an exaggerated step.

Given the formal element of the objects – linear, spiralling, entwining – the implications become visible. Dynamic forms echo the natural life force that roots contain and symbolise. A swelling line calls to mind the volumes of a human body; tendrils might be swinging strands of hair or gesturing arms.

The installation places the sculpture before a series of large monoprints on handmade paper. Their gauzy, atmospheric imagery contributes to the metaphor. These “Auroras of Autumn” evoke shadowy, damp, low sunlight or smudges of dirt. Smeary ink stains along the edges announce the process and the presence of the artist.

That evidence of the creative act suffuses the photo-booth work, which originated in the early 1990s when Rideal adopted that commonplace apparatus as artistic tool. Seeing the possibilities inherent in repetitive strips of photograph, she photographed her own hands and arms so that, out of context, they appear as abstract black marks on a white ground. Then she assembled the prints, rotated and arranged them into grids and built composite images. “Le Balcon”, for instance, seems to be a wrought iron balcony railing in silhouette.

Following that initial phase, Rideal began to attach coloured backdrops to the wall of the photo-booth. Then she introduced into the camera’s gaze length of sheer fabric in various colours: red, blue, yellow, green, orange, purple, white, either tossing them into the booth or adjusting them in layers against the back wall. The veils become rainbows, responding to the colour of the wall and an outside light source; against black in “Thunder Smoke 4”. they glow; against blue in “Blue Fall 3” they float, seemingly , underwater.

In that group, she isolated and enlarged individual pictures, and re-photographed the composite as a C-print. In another series, “Arras Suite Chocolate” as an example she assembled the original strips of tiny prints into a large collage whose repeating motifs construct subtle, shifting patterns.

When Rideal introduced plant material to the photo-booth, she also alternated her process. The root in the C-print “Nigella” materialises as a large shadow. In the collage of photo-booth strips, “Fantin Latour Homage”‘ a bouquet wavers between truths, simultaneously visible and concealed with the rhythmic pattern of the grid. Here again, Rideal conjures up an enigma to challenge our perceptions of reality.
Gloria Russell, Sunday Republican 6 October 2002

University of Massachusetts