[Review originally published in Monday Magazine in August of 2004. RogueArt was an early incarnation of Deluge Contemporary Art.]
Bedazzled! Claire Wood makes some sparkling observations at the RogueArt Gallery
The Bedazzling of Andreas Vesalius, RogueArt Gallery August 13th-29th
One way to look at art, both ancient and contemporary, is as the practice of making things visible that otherwise would go unnoticed. This might entail a painstaking illustration of the facts of nature or simply pointing out something which is already there in a way which somehow makes it more apparent, more existent, more…itself. Claire Wood, a recent graduate of UVic’s Visual Arts program who describes her art as “taking things out of their hiding places”, would certainly agree. The starting point for her work currently on display at RogueArt in the Bay Centre was the illustrations of Andreas Vesalius, a pioneering Renaissance surgeon whose investigations of the human body rescued our notion of anatomy from a fog of scholarly and religious controversy.
In the age of forensics-as-entertainment, we tend to forget that the mysteries of the body were once the site of a profound crisis: that of science versus faith. Vesalius both tested and excited his own beliefs by probing deeper into ‘the workings of creation’, and looking at Wood’s recreations of his engravings one feels this tension afresh. Blown up (using an overhead projector), in many cases to larger-than life proportions and mapped out on large plywood panels, the figures of Vesalius’ illustrations spring to life. Vibrant, grotesque and darkly comic, they strike graceful poses typical of the heroic or divine characters in historical paintings, while at the same time flesh peels back to expose bones and ligaments. Seen in such large scale, the hatch-lines of Vesalius’ engravings become weirdly sensual – strips of skin and muscle seem pliant and palpable, like petals or peels (recalling the Renaissance use of withering flowers and fruit as symbols of human mortality).
Wood has also superimposed flowers onto many of her images… A floral pattern borrowed from chair upholstery (and, perversely, applied with metallic auto enamel) wends its way around the macabre figures, adding something baroque to the seeming agony of one, contributing to a sense of deathly calm in another. Faux-jewels dot the lines of another set of bodies, creating a feeling of gaudy luxury. Wood considers the flowers and jewels: “they remind me of a typical idea of being ‘feminine’, decorative or domestic”; noting that they bring something temporary – reminiscent of the shopping mall, even – to the subject of eternity.
Perhaps Wood chooses to characterize the source of her inspiration as ‘bedazzled’ because (apart from the obvious pun – a dig at a kitschy device for fastening jewels to clothing) she finds her own relationship to this material involving and complex, not cut-and-dried. “Even though I’m working from photocopied transparencies, it’s never simple”, she hesitates, “…something always happens that makes me question the whole process.”
The largest piece in the show is a massive cross-section of the top of the head and brain, in which Wood found herself reducing the complex networks of the original illustration to flame-like shapes that recall current pop-culture’s interest in brain-chemistry imbalances and (mis)firing synapses. The head hovers on the wall opposite the others, as if it were the doctor/artist/author himself, brain ablaze with the wonder of his observations.