‘From the Deep’ is a sculptural installation by internationally renowned sculptor Tessa Farmer, shown for the first time at Millennium from 22nd June until 17th July.
We are confronted by a vision where a savage army of aquatically evolved fairies, each microscopic in scale with webbed feet and wings made from insects, are summoned by their airborne counterparts. They encroach, armed with sharks teeth and sea urchin spikes, leading a hoard of adapted combat crabs and airborne seahorses into a predatory battle.
This is an unsentimental lore – a world that we feel at once to be baron of human presence – yet when witnessing the entomological barbarism and ferocity of minute skeletal fairies declaring supremacy over other animal inhabitants, one could be forgiven for viewing these tableaus as symbolic of our conscience-free ravaging of our own planet’s habitat and co-occupants. These are works that revel in an industrious level of destruction, where we stand and witness chaos hoping and wondering when natural order may resume – yet we cannot help but ponder the question – is this an allegory for how natural order actually works?
This work takes a sizeable step away from the Victorian idea of fairies; these mystifying creatures are rooted in much darker Gothic and Renaissance folklores – yet the message is a timeless one. The imbued humour (albeit dark in this particular case) that the ubiquitous and often sentimentalised subject matter provides us with does not or should not detract from other artistic associations that we could make when viewing this work – from Bosch’s violent parable ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ or perhaps the savagery of Goya's 'Disasters of War' or 'Black Paintings' or indeed even Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ to name a swiftly chosen few – all these pieces speak of something brutally universal.
Tessa Farmer does not fit the traditional mould of sculptor, although the physical precision developed from anatomical studies at the Ruskin maintain its rigours. These works are assembled - from taxidermy, bone, plant roots and insects - organic matter, reanimated and anthropomorphised. Farmer prefers to describe herself as 'intermediary' rather than as an 'artist'; like a Victorian naturalist bringing a newly discovered unclassified species to public attention. In 2007, Farmer began a residency with the Natural History Museum. Working with experts from a variety of specialisations within the Department of Entomology, she went on to devote much of her research to the parasitic wasp, which habitually invades and devours other creatures in order to survive and prosper - such investigations in to the phenomena of the natural world combined with studies in to the fantastical (perhaps inherited on some level from her Great Grandfather, Arthur Machen who was a fantasy / horror author and mystic). Farmer notes, ‘I started looking into the history of fairies and, actually, in the middle ages they were associated with death and fear. People feared fairies; they were associated with unknown, unmapped places and the kind of force that would steal from you or kill you.’ These ingredients collected to form wonderfully apocalyptic fables set within a microscopic otherworld. Perhaps not so far from our own?
Tessa Farmer received an MA from the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, University of Oxford. Her unique work has attracted worldwide attention and she has been called ‘one of the UK’s fastest rising artists’. Farmer has been exhibited and collected widely both nationally and internationally, including at the Saatchi Gallery, London, and The Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania. She was selected for New Contemporaries in 2004, and has shown at Firstsite, Colchester, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland and in Parabola’s Repatriating the Ark at the Museum of Garden History.
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