Synergy - Exhibition Essay

Nicola Moss


17 October - 7 November 2015

SGAR | Spiro Grace Art Rooms


In an age of erratic climates and wavering futures, when simulated experiences replace lived ones, it has become imperative to seek an escape to the coast or countryside, to find a quiet open space to breathe and re-connect with the natural world. As infrastructure and urban developments expand and human populations increase, the promise of a secret getaway becomes a utopia. With an air of optimism, artist Nicola Moss reminds us of the ways we are connected to and a part of our natural world. With the view that human development is an extension of ecology, Moss investigates the relationship between natural environments and our dependence on them. 3

Over the past three years Moss has explored a cross section of Australia’s landscapes, from mountain ranges to expansive coastlines, rocky cliff faces, creeks and sand dunes. She travels with a growing understanding of ecology as well as openness to unique experiences and personal insights. Moss’s solo exhibition Synergy aims to transpire a personal memory, to ignite our own affinity with the natural world. Moss provides us with an immersive space to engage our sensory capacities of comprehension. Large-scale intricate works of hand cut paper span the walls of the gallery. Framed paintings conceal sections of paper, like buildings fragmenting their surrounding landscapes. Ornate paper forms hang from the ceiling, fracturing the clean lines of the gallery. Occupying our peripheral vision and taking on an organic curvature, the forms simulate patterns of light filtering through a canopy of trees.

For Moss these suspended sculptures incorporate personal significance that reflect her interest in Australia’s biological history. Deriving from the seeds and branches of a Hoop Pine tree, Moss traced and reconstructed these forms. Native to Queensland, Hoop Pine was one of the area’s first exports, harvested as early as 1824 for high quality timber. 4 The Hoop Pine once featured in a diverse dry land rainforest in the valley that is now a part of the artist’s backyard. A particularly graceful specimen, one of the few remaining Hoop Pine’s in the area, is visible from the artist’s studio. Despite the tree’s exploited history, the seed tracings are indicative of the earth’s capacity for renewal. Moss invites us to reflect on our environmental interference and personal legacy by reminding us of the astounding capacity for life to regenerate.

Throughout this exhibition, a multitude of intricate details harbour countless stories of place, human interaction and intervention. Within these details are traces of natural elements such as grains of sand, charcoal, and rust. Such distinctive and minute particulars have a tactile and metaphoric function. Moss captures the physical elements of place by experimenting with the treatment of paper across natural environments and surfaces. Imprinting rock sediment, natural ochre, and textured frottage as well as staining and rinsing paper in oceans and riverbanks. The works intriguing tactility transpires the spirit or essence of place, filling the gallery with the sensation of natural environments. We are reminded of the warmth of rocks on a beach or the taste of salt in the sea air. We think of pine forests, mountain ranges, and of dense dry bush land. Elements of these places are present, imbedded within the paper, and yet no distinct location is symbolised. This encourages us to recall or imagine a subjective sensation of a natural environment. 1

The artist’s interest in the natural world is never without acknowledgment of responsibility for its future. As the landscape changes so does it’s meaning, significance, and management. Through research and fieldwork in ecology, Moss continues to develop her knowledge of biodiversity. Her work “Trees We Have Known” was created from her dense accumulation of stencils and tracings. This hand cut artwork incorporates plant species of spectacular biodiversity, from the Sawtooth Banksia of the Greater Blue Mountains to Mangrove pods from Moreton Bay. Moss combines diversified species and environments to form a harmonious circular composition from a single piece of paper. The circular motif prompts recollection of a spiritual mandala, originating from India and now replicated all over the world. In Indian culture, the mandala symbolises the universe. For Moss the concept of connectivity between all things, man made and natural, is central to the enriched enquiry that accompanies Synergy. 2

Exploring connections between self, time, and a wider biological universe, Moss’s series ‘Constellation’ diverges from her cut paper techniques and moves further into painting. This series was painted plein air at the island of Coochiemudlo, a significant location for the artist. Here she describes the sensation of lying in the sand on a quiet beach as she listened to the rhythm of the tide in accordance with her breath, experiencing the warmth of the sun on her skin. Her focus on the visual occurrence of mental imagery as it emerges, shifts, and fades behind closed eyes. Unconcerned with reproducing the visual characteristics of her surroundings, the artists gesture traces time and the fleeting moments of sentience that often occur in the midst of nature. Through sensations of space and the body, the artist aims to render visible the intangible characteristics that connect this embodied experience with the expanse of the surrounding universe. 2

If Synergy is representational then what is represented is an experience of a landscape such as this, as it is felt through sensations of the body. Whilst reminding us of nature’s capacity to restore, replenish and rebuild, Synergy replenishes us. It invites us into a space that engages our attention yet demands very little from us. In the same way that forests, streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans engage us. Parting from urban environments that command our attention with overstimulation, Synergy compels us to look closely and allows us the space to respond. If the definition of Synergy is the coming together of two elements, then the artist has hand made an experience that produces a combined effect. By revisiting and re-thinking the past human actions that have shaped Australia’s changing natural environments, Moss invites us to share her perspective of acceptance and optimism for its future.

By Michelle Eskola 2015.

1. Alfrey, N, Daniels, S, Sleeman, J. (2012) ‘To the Ends of the Earth: Art and Environment’ Tate Papers, no.17. 

2. Alter, A, (2013) Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think Feel and Behave – How Nature Resets our Minds and Bodies.

3. Antrop, M. (2006) Sustainable Landscapes: Contradiction, Fiction or Utopia

4. Huth, J, Holzworth, P. (2005), Aruaucariaceae in Queensland, Australian Forest History Society, AUS.

5. Osborne, M. (2010), The Nature of Things: Thoughts on Organic Abstraction, Beauty and Immanence, Samstag Museum.