Thursday 28 May 2015

"Rooted" by Sandy Middleton at NAC

When I went to the reception for Sandy Middleton's show "Rooted" I did not know very much about her. I had just heard that she is a very interesting photographer, but I know very little about photography. The only other photographer I know is Derek Richards, who does a lot with very bright colour and with people moving around in exotic locations. He is nothing like her.

As I sat down and rested from my walk to NAC, my eyes rested on photographs of trees that were greenish-brownish and quite hazy. They were dreamy, poetic, not quite distinct, thoughtful, and very treeish. No human or animal figures appeared -- just expanses of fields or water with a few trees. The trees seemed to have been singled out for special, loving attention, and some of them you could see through, like the ghosts of trees. However the scene did not look like a graveyard but rather like a well loved place that the tree had come back to haunt because it was so fond of it.

When I asked the artist about this, she said that she had not intended anything psychological. She was simply interested in the effect of double exposure. These tree scenes had all been taken in Port Dalhousie and the one gnarled old tree taken with double exposure had been superimposed on a scene with a younger, less individual looking tree because it was so representative. It summed up the whole history of the trees in that neighbourhood.

This is what first caught my eye when I glanced around. But when I stood up and started looking more closely, I was quite overwhelmed by a photograph of tangled tree roots with only a few leaves and branches sprouting from them which led off the exhibition, and which Sandy Middleton connected in a note to her own roots. It immediately made me think of Ents, Tolkien's treelike shepherds of the trees and of my first excited discovery of The Lord of the Rings in my last year as a student at Oxford.

I have never read a book which excited me so much. It all seemed so beautiful and fresh and new, such a change from the dreary, nerve-wracking work of trying to meet the impossibly high academic standards of Oxford. And it had been written by an Oxford professor! So there was hope and joy and magic and life after all! I had just sat down and reread the chapter "Treebeard" in The Two Towers and it is just as I remembered it. Yes, that tangle of tree roots conjures up the image of the toes of Treebeard, guardian of the Forest of Fangorn, which he always put down first when he went walking.

I asked Sandy Middleton about it and she said yes, she had been thinking of Ents. She told me about a huge Ent costume she had devised and that had towered over the onlookers for the NAC Festival of Wearable Art a couple of years ago. She said there is bound to be a photograph of it in the archives.

As I went through the show, I found a series of little circular segments of wood with photographs of leafless branches printed on them upside down so that they looked like roots instead of branches. On an adjoining wall were sheets of paper treated with beeswax showing the same thing. Sandy said she intended the shock of surprise created by showing the branches upside down but the people who bought them would probably want to show them right side up. Not everyone likes novelty and invention.

At the very end of the show there was an autumnal scene -- the one definite touch of colour, but even so rather muted. The avoidance of definite colour made the whole show seem like a stroll through a dream -- or rather like a poem about a dream.

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