Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lyndal Osborne, Ornamenta*

Curated by Linda Jansma and Virginia Eichhorn, Ornamenta brings together two significant installations by Edmonton-based artist Lyndal Osborne. An ecology of biodiversity surfaces as a unifying theme between Garden (2005) and Archipelago (2008) — both underscore Osborne’s meticulously detailed craftsmanship with a multitude of treated organic materials.

Image credit: Lyndal Osborne, Archipelago (detail), sunflower stalks and grapefruit skins chine colle with lithograph drawings or painted, wire, glass beads, DNA model connectors, laboratory glassware, metal caps and Bunsen burners, sea balls, seed pods, Sculpey, silicone rubber, resin, papier mache, paint and dye. 2008, dimensions variable.

Since her career began four decades ago, Osborne’s collection of organic objects has progressively permeated her body of work. Advancing from the straightforward presentation of Tableaux For Transformation (1998), a meditation on collection and nonhierarchical systems of being, Ornamenta strikes the viewer as inherently ecopolitical. She elevates her collection of grapefruit skins, dried sunflower stalks, and upturned roots beyond their essence and productive functions, and her rearrangements become an expressive encounter.

In Garden, a central patch of upturned annual indigenous roots have been treated in bright pinks and greens, colours that for Osborne best represent the growing climate in Australia and Canada. Rendering visible the harvested roots, which have sprouted from seed to plant to death, Osborne invites the viewer to look and think beyond the life of a plant, and appreciate the dead roots as central to the ongoing cycle of growth.

Acknowledging her mother’s gift and passion for gardening as the direct influence for her own interest, Osborne’s real-life gardens are a visual cacophony of healthy, self-sustaining perennials grown wild in rhythmic chaos. Cherishing the plants in life and in death by collecting and incorporating her own dried foliage, Osborne’s work affirms that the worth of seeds and roots does not end once the productive function has been completed. The natural cycles of life from seed to root to plant and back to seed have an intrinsic value, a value being threatened by research-driven advances in biotechnology, a field that fascinates Osborne and prompts her to question its accountability within the grand ecological order of nature.

Image credit: Lyndal Osborne, Garden, mixed media installation: sunflower, beans, tomatoes, dill and corn roots, corn silk, rose petals, lime grass, dogwood, stair step moss, rhubarb seeds, willow, dogwood, corn cobs, hand-made sisal paper, wax, latex, steel, plaster, wood and paint, 2005, dimensions variable.

Expanding beyond the hyperreal urban backyard in Garden, Archipelago simulates 16 modified cell structures along a metaphoric North Saskatchewan River. Osborne has been interested in the international debate of labeling genetically modified foods — biotechnology produces research-driven organisms by concentrating and injecting the most productive genes from a diverse variation of organisms into homogenous superseeds. The long-term effects of a single superseed on human consumption have yet to be accounted for in terms of long-term human and ecological health, and Osborne is asking questions now — how will GMOs adapt to infestation, bush fires, and other ecological cycles that reinvigorate natural diversity.

Flowing throughout the exhibition alongside the 16 altered pods and laboratory apparatus, the North Saskatchewan River shines in contrast as an open-ended life source filled with unaltered biodiversity. Running close to Osborne’s own home and acreage, the strength of a healthy river stands as symbol of sustainable ecology that intertwines both art and life.

The diversity of materials culled from Osborne’s own land, and visible throughout Ornamenta, strives for an awareness of our ecological responsibilities to respect nature’s self-sustaining rhythms. Osborne’s metaphorical gardens and cell pods act as warnings to the irrevocable damage our unheeded technological breakthroughs can bring if we as consumers and as a generation do not become more aware. Disrupting a natural order through the proliferation of GMOs, the concern of biotechnology is not restricted to the single issue between humans and nature, but as demonstrated in Ornamenta, rests between diversity and the earth.

Ornamenta will exhibit in the Penticton Art Gallery, Edmonton’s Harcourt House Gallery, the Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery, and the Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre in Medicine Hat through late 2010.

*First published in Galleries West Winter/Spring 2009.

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