Artist Venetia Nevill on using nature as her raw material
The installation artist discusses working with the elements – and the magical qualities of algae…
‘The natural world has become my canvas as well as my inspiration,’ explains Nevill – working with various media, her installation-based work often involves a degree of interaction, incorporating aspects of meditative ritual, healing and alchemy and referencing the Celtic wheel of life (which celebrates the equinoxes and the lunar cycles). Her materials have included the earth, red iron, bark from dying trees and water from sacred wells.
In looking towards nature in this way, there is a strong sense of rebalance in Nevill’s work. ‘In our busy, media-orientated lives it is easy to lose touch with ourselves,’ she says. ‘I am passionate about using art to connect us to our senses and to the present moment to ground ourselves.’
Nevill recently showed a piece as part of Wavelengths, a free group show in Hastings, interpreting the writer Virginia Woolf’s themes of memory, the passage of time, the corrosion and rejuvenation of life, nature, the status of women in society, the consequences of war and existentialism. Her contribution took the birch tree as its starting point, inspired by a passage in Woolf’s novel Between the Acts (‘weeps the birch of silver bark with long dishevelled hair’). The birch tree, she points out, has always been associated with the spirits of the dead, symbolising renewal and also the feminine (it is also known as ‘The Goddess Tree’). Nevill’s own ecologically-informed installations often pay homage to our elemental connections with nature, as well as the notion of transformation and healing through the recycling process – themes that chime well with Woolf’s.
‘I am particularly drawn to Woolf’s love of nature and deep connection with what she called “moments of being”; flashes of awareness when an individual is fully conscious of her experience, which reveal a connection to a larger pattern behind the “cotton wool” of daily life,’ she says. ‘She saw this new form of reality as inherent in nature, observing, “I see something before me, something abstract, but residing in the downs or sky, besides which nothing matters, in which I shall rest and continue to exist – reality I call it”.
In another recent work – the interactive installation Regenesis for the Waterloo Festival in London – Nevill turned her attention to a material that is under-exploited in the art world: algae.
‘It is a magical microorganism believed to be the source of all life,’ says Nevill. ‘Essentially made from sunlight and water, it collects solar energy, and through the chemical reaction of photosynthesis it creates oxygen – so all animate life could exist. It is often seen as a hazard, but its potential as a renewable energy and sustainable food source is exciting. Water carries memory…’
She is currently showing at the RSVP show at London’s No Format gallery (until 28 October), this time taking the opportunity to explore manmade materials from a Canary Wharf construction site – an intriguing departure from her usual source material…