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Anna Macleod: Water Conversations – A Survey of Works 2007-2015, Art Monthly, Issue 389, September 2015

September 29, 2015

The Dock Carrick-on-Shannon 4 July to 12 September

Leitrim-based artist Anna Macleod presents a compelling survey of work spanning the past eight years. Probing the socio-political and cultural implications of water, the artist devises site-specific actions across the globe, from Ghana and northern India to Colorado and the Gobi Desert, and the inclusion of geographic coordinate data connects the artworks to their original sites of production. Upon entering gallery one, a tiny moving image, viewed through mosquito netting, offers a window onto an unfamiliar landscape, where a scorched terracotta-coloured ground meets a searing blue sky. Filmed on location in Erg Znagui in the Sahara Desert, Water Proverbs, 2015, translates common Moroccan adages such as ‘move the water and the thirsty will come’, to express the basic role of water in human survival. Pinned taut on a wooden support, the mosquito netting is embroidered with Arabic lettering and drawings of desert scrubland plants, whose brittle, spindly forms thrive in hostile, arid conditions. In a similar botanical vein, Pearls of Rain, 2012, comprises a series of ten illustrations engraved on glass, depicting plant species native to the Gobi Desert, where the artist previously developed rainwater-harvesting projects. Presented in a pristine, wall-mounted, museological arrangement, the delicate engravings relay plant names in Latin and Russian, alongside dates of their collection by the Komarov Botanical Institute – one of the largest herbariums in the world, which Macleod consulted extensively. Occupying a wall within an arched recess, the waxy, crimped and pleated paper formations of Watershed: Propositions, 2015-17, transcend their former function – rudimentary dew-catchers for Spanish agricultural irrigation – to provide exuberant sculptural gestures. Although the backdrop of ecological interventions is highly engaging, it is Macleod’s skill and proficiency as a maker, however, that ultimately proves to be the defining feature of the exhibition. Walking Hinsdale Country, 2011, is a meticulously crafted, birch-ply parasol sculpture, complete with deer horns, conjuring associations with skeletal remains and drought-stricken desert plains. A muted shimmer emanates from thin aluminium plating below, vaguely suggesting a mirage.

Just as water scarcity governs the parched landscapes of gallery one, extreme contrast is achieved in galleries two and three, where western Canada’s frozen wilderness is represented as a vulnerable and contradictory site. A wall-mounted text – Bitumen by Canadian poet Karen Solie – plucks at the landscape’s ancient rhythms while mobilising modern-day cultural, geopolitical and industrial references to forge tangible links with far off places. Water Conversations – Alberta, 2015, examines the impact of ubiquitous fossil fuel extraction in the region, articulated through a range of interventions and documented in a series of large-scale, black-and white-photographs and a crisp new film work. Iconic ‘postcard’ scenes of lakes and snow-capped mountains are juxtaposed alongside vexed sites, including a cement factory at the edge of a forest and an Indian Trading Post selling native handcrafts, moccasins and furs ‘direct from the trappers’. During pensive, performative walks, the artist carried a weighty parasol sculpture, made from recycled rubber and aluminium. Implanted in a large rock, perched on a four-wheeled trolley, the parasol appears as a counter-monument in the gallery setting, perpetually fluctuating between transience and permanence. Other props and artefacts embodying the artists’ journeys are also displayed, including an ice-pick and a well-worn canoe. A pair of ‘found jigsaws’, featuring twee depictions of Canada’s West Coast, provide a point of reference for the artist’s personalised jigsaw edition. The featured image comes from the series OH Alberta: Bewildered in Banff, 2015, where a banner, embroidered with the word ‘bewildered’, is paraded near Banff’s Bow River Bridge. The actual banner, complete with rabbit fur embellishment, rests meditatively against the gallery wall. Within the confines of gallery three, the fur-lined hat, winter coat and snow boots worn by Macleod hang on the wall, alongside the handheld blowtorch which features in her film. This shadowy presence conjures associations with Joseph Beuys’ Felt Suit, not least in terms of the garments’ insulating properties, and tentative links between physical warmth and spiritual endeavour. Many of the ideas circulating in the exhibition are crystallised in a solitary ornamental ceramic plate – originally an item of merchandise from the Canadian oil well servicing company CenAlta Ltd. The plate’s regal golden trim and illustration of an oil well adjacent to a lush green pasture dulcify neither the dubious legacy of hydraulic fracturing technology in the Alberta region nor the industry’s links with water contamination and increased occurrences of minor earthquakes. With this artwork, the viewer is returned to the Leitrim context – where ‘fracking’ and the privatisation of water services remain contentious national concerns – to reflect on the tools mobilised by artists when contributing to urgent global conversations.

 

Joanne Laws is an arts writer based in the west of Ireland.

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