Frist Center for the Visual Arts | February 10–May 7
“The best art introduces us to new perspectives—on ourselves and the world we live in. Often it is beautiful, but always it is arresting, luring you into pausing and looking intently and thereby seeing the world a bit differently, too.”
Claire Morgan was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and lives and works in the north of England. Trained as a sculptor, she has exhibited across the United Kingdom and Europe, and her February exhibition at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, titled Stop Me Feeling, is her inaugural solo show in the United States. Her artwork is a meditation on interactions of the animals and plants of the natural world with humans and the built environment. She explores the varied materiality of these dissimilar worlds and the futility of man’s attempts to control natural processes of life and death.
Morgan’s signature works are fragile and intricate installations in which thousands of organic and inorganic materials hang from thousands of threads. These are created with painstaking craftsmanship. Trinita Kennedy, the exhibition’s curator at the Frist, describes her work as “very impressive from a technical view.” A video within the exhibition elaborates on the process and planning that go into her artworks. Morgan intentionally separates elements that are normally clustered in nature—flies, dandelion fuzz, trash particles. Yet, when taken as a whole, these sculptures create the illusion of a solid structure and an intricately woven web. Animals are central to her practice, particularly the animals found in city settings: deer, foxes, birds, rodents, insects. The artist does her own taxidermy, and it is from this process that her works on paper stem. These are gestural and spontaneous, a creative converse to her meticulous, mathematical approach to sculpture.
It is most appropriate that Morgan’s first solo exhibition in the United States would be in Music City. Her poetic titles are often inspired by song lyrics; even the title of the exhibition, Stop Me Feeling has its roots in a Trent Reznor song made famous by Johnny Cash. The artist states that her work is intended to have no exact message but rather is an invitation into the things that she ponders. Reflecting on the title of this exhibition, she wrote “This interests me—our shared experience that in art, and particularly in music, prevails over an individual’s situation. We are all intricately connected in ways we may not expect.” This idea is manifested in her sculptures both physically and conceptually.
Of the three sculptures in Stop Me Feeling, two are smaller cabinet pieces with birds as their central element. Within You Without You features a small dunnock almost hidden among a dense installation of brightly colored torn polythene. Morgan is fascinated by the persistence of nature to exist among the brick and concrete of particularly rundown environments, noting how plants will grow in any crack or crevice. In Cluster**** a stuffed carrion crow is suspended among flower seeds, leaves, and insects. It dominates the scene, causing us to think about the place of this least-loved of birds in our midst. The apparent randomness of colors and materials surrounding it, as well as the title itself, point to the chaos of nature, though it is ironic given Morgan’s acute precision.
If you go down to the woods is a monumental installation. In it, butterflies and torn polythene in a single color have been applied to the sculpture’s strings to create three cleanly defined geometric planes in space. Wandering gently into the mix is a muntjac (a miniature deer). From a certain angle, the thousands of small orange pieces look simply like dust particles quivering in the light, but then the stark angles of the greater design bring back to mind the human effort to control our natural surroundings. Kennedy describes the artist’s sculptures as “an elaborate project” and continues by saying, “It amazes me how prolific she is, given how time intensive her work is.”
The exhibition also includes several works on paper that include taxidermical residue. Using traces of this process and her notations as a starting point, Morgan then incorporates elements in graphite, watercolor, and mixed media. The resulting works, while wholly different from her sculptures, offer a new way for viewers to approach the issues that she finds so intriguing.
The best art introduces us to new perspectives—on ourselves and the world we live in. Often it is beautiful, but always it is arresting, luring you into pausing and looking intently and thereby seeing the world a bit differently, too. Take a minute to do this with Claire Morgan’s work at the Frist. Zoom into one of her thousands of details and see how very different it seems when taken as part of a cohesive whole, for therein lies one of her methods of opening our eyes to some of the tensions and connections of the world in which we live.
Claire Morgan’s exhibit Stop Me Feeling opens at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts on February 10 and remains on view through May 7. For more information, visit www.fristcenter.org. See more of Morgan’s work at www.claire- morgan.co.uk.