The Experience of Beauty
6 April to 12 May 2012
Untitled, Brook Morgan, 2009, woven, grass, horsehair, cotton thread, 90cmx90cm, Photographer: Nady Stevens.
The Experience of Beauty by Ann McMahon
When I discussed The Experience of Beauty with her, artist Brook Morgan talked about her childhood fascination with details she observed in nature. She would collect small things that caught her eye. They captivated her senses as she explored them with her eyes and fingers. She examined the tiniest detail of each item, lingering to compare one with another and noting differences. Within a collection of tiny treasures, she was rewarded by the discovery of individual variation. Patiently, she would sort and arrange the objects that she found according to their visual characteristics and then assemble them into miniature environments that celebrated her discoveries.
Recalling the curiosity, delight and pleasure of these childhood experiences, Morgan revisits the activities of collecting and arranging to create her exhibition The Experience of Beauty. The majority of works are woven and incorporate found materials. The artworks are presented as simply as possible without faming devises, to privilege the materials and construction, which are intrinsic to the artist's expression. Weaving is a sophisticated and exacting process that produces flexible grid structures. To make Untitled (grass circle) Morgan has inserted long linear elements, horse hair and grass-like fibres weft-wise across the warp. The dramatic fringes on either side are distinguished by a rhythmic order. Subtle shifts of colour in the fibres are made more emphatic with the addition of black horse hair and a pattern of fine stripes in vibrant red.
Untitled (grass circle) has been manipulated into a loop and pinned directly to the wall. The inner fringe skirts a central opening in the form. It is a visual metaphor for cyclic continuity. Given the context of the chosen materials, Untitled (grass circle) suggests both the perennial nature of grassland environments and the conceit of man's achievements, which are accounted for on an annual basis and are ultimately as fragile and ephemeral. Untitled (protea circle) is a wide, open circle. It exhibits a painstakingly arranged gradation of colour from almost black at the top to pale silvery pink at the bottom. Morgan has disassembled and sorted the glower bracts of black proteas. The work invites close and curious inspection, recalling for viewers, the sense of wonder and discovery that we experience in childhood.
Morgan's dusty pink Untitled (protea scrolls), a pair of woven structures, again incorporating velvety flower bracts graded by length, invite appreciation of the beautiful texture and colour of the chosen material. While this work is particularly successful in conveying Morgan's subjective experience of beauty, it is also humble. The beauty of the found material is enhanced and value is added to the finished work by means of the labour intensive means of production, including: the collecting of protea flowers, separating the individual bracts, sorting and grading them by length and colour, and incorporating them individually into a narrow woven strip.
Weave is by nature an ordered and repetitive practice that progresses in rhythmic increments over a period of time. The addition of each bract is an act of devotion by the artist that is repeated to become a litany. Each scroll is a petition appealing for reverence and an appreciation for the small details in nature, which collectively constitute the world around us and the environment that sustains life as we know it. The essential meaning of The Experience of Beauty lies in the subjective relationship between the artist, the materials and the process. Viewers are invited to share Morgan's private reverie. The experience of the viewer is also subjective and will be variously informed by the individual's knowledge and empathy for the artist's project.
The woven works in The Experience of Beauty derive from Morgan's recently completed Masters Degree studies at the College of Fine Art, University of NSW. Newer pieces include Untitled (casuarina twirl), a fragile asymmetrical fringed weaving, which is allowed to spiral from a wall mount. In conjunction with its shadow an intriguing double helix is created. Morgan's recent work also includes small wall mounted pieces: Untitled (rusty wire loop), (stick loop) and Untitled (skeletal stems), in which curvilinear protea stigmas, incorporated into narrow woven strips, interact to form delicately patterned geometric borders.
The artist's concerns with the naturally occurring qualities of her material also inform Untitled (rock paintings) a floor installation that eschews weaving. Morgan gathered the stones during an artist residency in the Green House at Fowlers Gap, an arid area research station north of Broken Hill, which is managed by the University of NSW. The residency afforded her the time to investigate an extreme and visually stimulating environment. The experience inspired the development of a new body of work that successfully departs from her established weaving practice.
The stones of Untitled (rock paintings) are masked and painted with red ochre to leave a central circle that frames naturally occurring painterly compositions. They suggest both macro and microcosmic views of landscape. Despite the dissimilar materiality, the rock pieces are consistent with other works in the exhibition in their aims and approach. These works are also intended to engage viewers in enjoyment of everyday detail that would otherwise go unnoticed and unremarked. In Untitled (rocks and moss), Morgan revisits the delight of creating miniature environments. Grey slate slabs surround and strongly contrast to Morgan's richly textured circular plantings of moss.
Louise Doyle, Director of the National Portrait Gallery opened The Experience of Beauty at Craft ACT, Craft and Design Centre and defined beauty as something that gives pleasure to the mind. The subject of beauty is currently enjoying attention from a variety of academic disciplines, neuroscience in particular. It has been proposed that humans are hardwired with a bias towards beauty. This may well be because beauty positively impacts on our sense of wellbeing. Individuals always occupy a position within a spectrum and at one extreme, there are those that thrive in the presence of beauty and languish in its absence. They require beauty almost as they do the air that they breathe. It provides sustenance, comfort and solace. Viewers captivated by Brook Morgan's engagement with natural materials will be quietly moved by The Experience of Beauty.
Ann McMahon, Curator, Artist, Arts Writer