In these fragile works created by Susan Knight it would seem that the artist has pressed more than organic matter into a series of ovid and elliptical paper epidermae.

The artists choice of material at once invites us into the confines of an ephemeral museum of nature, collected and revealed as shrouds, stains and illusions of fossilization.

Conventional craft based printing techniques and the historical book presses favoured by the hobbyist botanist are dispensed with even though the form of the work alludes to traditions of collecting and archiving natural forms into both scientific and personal museologies. And yet these outwardly provisional and modest fragments also invite us to speculate anew upon an exhaustively discussed nature/culture conundrum.

Conventionally, we understand that the tools of the painter/printer are employed to realize an illusion of nature, across a range of abstract and figurative manifestations.

But in this instance, 'real nature', or fragments thereof, is forcibly imprinted and withdrawn from the paper to create a direct trace of the actual organic form. In the palest works, linseed oil perfects an alchemical shroud of the casually selected leaf; its myriad cellular structures are almost conclusively drawn. Paint and ink are dispensed with, but the cultivated medium of the oil is still required to achieve the trace.

In the more painterly bleeds and pressings it is almost as if organic form is having to insist on its own presence through a welter of paint rather than the paint being used to create an illusionistic mark of nature. The forced leaf repels the paint but at the same time the bled paint paradoxically stands for an illusion of the leaf guts having been expunged from its cellular form. It would seem that questions of cultural illusion are not entirely dispensed with, but are made more subtly complex by the application of these organic soft 'plates' directly applied to the surface.

'Real nature' is a phrase used with difficulty in any critical discussion of representing the natural in contemporary art practice. In assembling botanical fragments as tools, the artist's process here may not simply be about a neat linear reflex of attaching a paintbrush to the canvas or of permitting the evidence of self-conscious brush-marks to exist as a sign of the mythic presence of the 'natural' artist.

For this work ushers in the spectre of a contemporary mark-making debate and doubly so because of its express desire to image fragments of nature as a pictorial outcome.

What is interesting here is that the animate leaf might also be seen as an extension of the artists hand, an organic prosthesis forced into the service of the print. Does the artist resist the graft in this case? Or become the cherry tree? We know that Jackson Pollock may have envisaged layered perspectives of forests in his complex pourings but he was also mythically identified with the forest, the artist as primeval nature seer, making the mark but also conjoined with it, as part of it.

Women artists have similarly been afflicted by such organicist tropes but are differently constructed as natural subjects and creators.

This artist is sensitive to the gendered associations of collecting and archiving imprints of natural fragments without forcing this into overt discussion. In her quiet conflating of natural and cultural worlds, these works of Susan Knight remain tantalizingly elusive and the work is therefore kept subtly poised upon the brink of critical and poetic possibility. That is the nature of her particular cultural fusings and the evident vitality of these Pressing Matters.

 

Amanda Johnson

Pressing Matters at West Space 1997