Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Nature Of Art: Lynn Bennett-Mackenzie at the Sawyer Gallery, Poolewe

Lynn Bennett Mackenzie's solo exhibition at Inverewe Garden & Estate's new Sawyer Gallery in Poolewe, Wester Ross opened last night. The theme - Art In Nature, or The Nature Of Art - was a powerful one, well-suited to a small gallery in the midst of a rural landscape. It would probably have been easy for Lynn to present something innocuously pastoral, but she's a much better artist than that.

So like the natural world which inspired it, the works were both raw and subtle, often combining both qualities within a single piece.  A piece of driftwood hid waxen pearls which could have been eggs but suggested teeth, as though some unnamed baby animal with a savage need to chew and tear had left them embedded in the wood.   Birth and flight were everywhere through the repeated motifs of eggs and feathers, but always with the threat of violence and destruction hovering in the wings.

Also evoked was the sense of idea of watching and being watched. A pair of wooden eyes stared out of a museum display case like a found tribal artefact; the quiet gaze of still painted faces ringed the room.  Most powerful of all was a sculptural figure made entirely of sheep's wool which sat like a sentry at the room's focal point. Both serene and strangely threatening, he seemed to encapsulate the equivocal nature of the art on show, and the landscape from which it was drawn.

There's a limit to what you can say about art without making some more, though, so in response to Lynne's call for interactive responses here are two poems which I hope will serve to offer some kind of reaction both to her work, and to the Garden itself.  The first is new, written this afternoon, and was inspired by the sheep's wool figure mentioned above.  The second is an older poem, written after a stint working in the garden's visitor centre.


We cannot count
the sheep that went
to make him.

Sprawled in his chair,
he makes no bones
about his being.

He watches silently
through the soft blind  
warmth of his wool.

He exhibits no emotion,
yet we default to him,
our speechless sentry.

Sheepishly I take his hand,
but may not disturb
the long sleep he inflicts.


This garden is not safe. Not a refuge for worn-out minds
Or feet.  We tell them there are 54 acres to explore.  We lie.
We say nothing of the depth.  Years have soaked into its soil
With the rain. Look deeper and there is more than on the map.
The paths are nothing. Here history moves with predatory stealth.

The monstrous flowers you admire have eaten people's eyes
Who looked on them too long. They are nourished on your gaze.
Tall trees have slaughtered thirty at a time. Severed arms
Grope blindly at the air, their dry bark flaking. In the autumn,
When the fruiting starts, you can gather up their nuts.

There are goddesses here. Gods too, stalking upside down,
Their glassy feet mirroring your soles. Their bodies stretch
Beneath you like a shadow.  Under their massive gravity
Your legs will sink, your hollow mouth will fill with soil.
You will forget your name to feed their rooted memory.

© Clare O'Brien 2017