Between Worlds is a beguiling title for Rachel Apelt’s exhibition. Explorations of other worlds, imagined narratives, and cosmic genealogies, Apelt’s works are poignantly grounded in the concerns of now. With a gratifying palette and intimate scale, the artist unreservedly paints her meditation upon the suturing possibilities of mankind and earth.
The expressive support of the work – upcycled timber offcuts, oils and gouaches, cyanotypes and beeswax encaustic – speaks of integrative studio methods and ingenious recasting and reuse. The formal qualities enforce the emotional and sensual ones. Interrogating our relation with the environment, Apelt grounds our apriori communion at the material level. Her practice returns the beauty, freedom and aliveness of nature to the manmade object as art object.
Drawing upon her love for forests, reefs, oceans and rivers, Apelt’s work responds to the impending climate change threat. It engages the detached viewer and empowers the powerless one. It raises possible solutions and delivers promise. As soon as I entered the exhibition space, I felt how the ecopolitical sentiment at play was one of ‘active hope’. For Apelt, there is a synergetic congruousness between nature and us, a reciprocal healing potential to which climate emergency ultimately points.
Marvellously enrapturing the audience, Between Worlds advances a new visual propositions of alternative time and space. The coats of encaustic paint support a nonlinear storyline, creating a layered temporal experience of preverbal worlds. Yet, Apelt’s exploration stands rather for soothing reminiscences of pastness, than for unsettling awakenings into conditions of the present.
Drawing upon her love for forests, reefs, oceans and rivers, Apelt’s work responds to the impending climate change threat.
The Lacanian time of terminal arrest of the painter’s gesture is dissolved in the intervention of the artistic material, as the brush marks melt back into the wax. This suggests an intimate connection to processes of life that goes beyond the illusory stability of chronology and its constraints. As explained by Apelt, the works aims to connect with the viewer emotively. It is the lived experience of time, the more sharply focused instants, the breathtaking moments that Apelt’s practice aims to awake in its viewer.
Apelt’s paintings are not given individual titles. Between waves (2019) and Blue World (2019) are two main captions that bring together dozen of pieces. Delicate, small-sized, they sway with their physical quality of objects employed to create forms and shapes on the gallery wall. It was moving to see how Apelt’s recurrent themes of interconnectivity and fluidity come to the fore in the display format of the exhibition, as well.
The two series uphold a spatiality where elements are insistently equal to each other: human body, natural materials, planets. As facts of the life cycle are permuted, they are all brought together in a relational identity. Evocative of possibility, but also of dissolution, the cyan blue lends a haunting, ethereal character to the scapes. Apelt paints a sunken world in which bodies, trees and spheres gravitate, overlap and protrude into one another.
Another idea that the artworks convey is of life as unyielding process of creation and recreation to which both environment and humans contribute. Returning to my first impression of the exhibition, it calls up to ‘active hope’ and climate immediate action. “If we have no hope, there is no imperative to act,” Apelt confides to me. Evocation, comprising three large scale canvases, communicates the immensity of climate change threat. With an intensified detailing of the figurative subject, it compels us to a ‘here and now’ response. It is the urge to use our innate powers of reviving and nourishing the earth that sustains us.
It is the lived experience of time, the more sharply focused instants, the breathtaking moments that Apelt’s practice aims to awake in its viewer.
Apelt renders the body in a posture that simultaneously reflects creation and disintegration. It bends, crouches and kneels, in a telling of raising to life or coming to rest, but also in an attempt to obscure the distinction between the two. That said, the movements disclose known narratives: bearing and nativity, transformation, labour and harvesting, initiation, contemplation, curing and repairing, transience, mortality and disintegration. For a second, records of my past flashed before my eyes in a dazzling blast of fast sketches. While walking through the exhibition, I was drawn by images of hands gently reach towards their surroundings. Repetitive, the gesture is redolent of caressing yearnings.
Around the final corner of the exhibition, Apelt installed the video Greef (2018). The piece combines artist’s animation with waves recordings by Nik Paget-Tomlinson. Apelt’s recurring stooping figure and coral motifs are conflated with alternative painting and drawing. But the cyanotype methods resonates, perhaps, closer with the theme of the video: the dying of the Great Barrier Reef. The process integrates the chemical, biological and organic in its search for an image that may as well have never existed. In cyanotypes, I read metaphors of dispersal, loss and remains. On the other hand, the vanishing of the reef traces solely the fullness of its destruction. The material answers once more to the artistic investigation. Apelt saw the corals for the first time in 2017. Greef is her visceral testimonial.
Oscillating between different degrees of figurative, Apelt employs an aesthetic that opens up to the audience the solipsistic, self-referential character of printmaking methods. Their seriality and reproducibility are further shielded by the artist’s layered exploration of paints and encaustic. Insisting upon the mutual sustenance between body and earth, Apelt’s exhibition engages us with climate change challenges and consequences, and illuminates our essential agency to heal, rejuvenate and restore.
4 stars out of 5 ★★★★
Caboolture Hub Regional Gallery, QLD
4-29 February 2020