Sumer is pleased to present Any Plant Thought of Too Much Will Not Thrive, an exhibition of new work by Zina Swanson.
In these works (all 2020) Swanson draws on plant-related lore to interrogate the way we live with plants. Geraniums growing in an open window will prevent flies from entering the room. Any plant thought of too much will not thrive. These curious phrases and others like them form the basis for a collection of immaculate watercolour and acrylic paintings that are humorous and uncanny while also hinting at a darker view of humanity’s relationship to the natural world.
The phrases are borrowed from Animal and Plant Lore (1899), an anthology of oral English language histories. Swanson says she is interested in how we force histories onto plants as a way to understand them. Her practice has previously used passages from the infamous The Secret Life of Plants (1973), which makes pseudoscientific claims about plant sentience. Plant lore similarly has no scientific founding. These texts, and their peculiar worldview, have given Swanson a fresh way to consider how we make sense of the world around us.
Watercolour has long been a favourite medium, though most of the works are acrylic on canvas. Swanson’s signature precision is still very much on display though. The visual pleasure of her use of repetition is also undeniable: a silhouette of a head composed of many pressed forget me not flowers; fine yellow lines radiating, almost pulsing around an extended finger; two walls of freckled noses appearing to close in on a blooming tiger lily. This last image is odd, amusing––Swanson often uses repetition to this end. Though take a step back from this work, and the noses collectively could be mistaken for a pair of menacing wasp nests. Swanson also aims to unsettle.
While the viewer is encouraged to contemplate the futility of a task such as “pointing at a daffodil will keep it from blooming” these works also resonate on a deeper level. Why are we so determined to bend the natural world to our will? In line with this there is always a human presence––the outline of a face, noses, a hand––or something that suggests a human has been here: a window, neatly arranged sticks. The works are smaller in scale, though this is one of their strengths. They’re scaled for an interaction with the viewer that is personal, intimate, and so wonderfully unnerving.
Zina Swanson (b. 1981) lives and works in Ōtautahi Christchurch. She has exhibited extensively with solo and group presentations at most of New Zealand’s top galleries and museums. These include the Christchurch Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, City Gallery Wellington and Artspace Aotearoa. Her works are also held in the collections of the Wallace Arts Trust, Christchurch Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and The Dowse Art Museum, and she has been the recipient of the prestigious Frances Hodgkins Fellowship.