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May we suggest

Reviews / January 8, 2009

Lyndal Osborne: Delectable Decay

Lyndal Osborne Garden 2005 / photo Hutch Hutchinson

“Ornamenta,” on exhibit this past year in Oshawa and Waterloo, and travelling in the next few years to Penticton, Edmonton, Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat, is Lyndal Osborne’s magnificent cross-Canada compost pile. The artist’s printmaking techniques have been applied to a base of dried vegetative material, infecting it with explosive colour and implications of scientific meddling. Grapefruit rinds become vessels that extrude stems, seed pods, petals and other bits of vegetation from Osborne’s Alberta property. The dry heat of Western Canada has been utilized to mummify organic material that would rapidly morph into a worm-infested mush in a rainier province.

Sunflower stems, ossified doughnuts, upended root systems and corn cobs are only a few of the many objects that Osborne has papered to create two visually intense and thought-provoking installations, Garden and Archipelago. These two installations were brought together for travel by a joint effort of Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa and the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo.

Suggestive rather than polemical, Archipelago recasts a DNA string as the winding North Saskatchewan River, banked by a series of wire-enclosed ovoid shapes arranged to represent indeterminate cells. Most are similarly structured with a central collection of organic objects, and a few contain implanted beakers and other laboratory utensils. Employing a chine collé technique, Osborne patterns each individual piece of detritus toward an accumulation that mimics cell structure and directly refers to issues surrounding genetically modified organisms, monocultures and the resulting threat to biodiversity. Encircling each centre is a collection of rod-like pieces that are actually sunflower stalks dressed in colourful paper. Reminiscent of firecrackers, these are placed in vibrant juxtaposition to grapefruits printed to resemble their mouldy real-life counterparts. The wired frame enclosures also support exterior attachments—more grapefruit-containers that Osborne suggests to be pathogens. Brilliantly conceived, the piece exists and can be contemplated at many levels—microbiological, geographical or horticultural.

Osborne plays with this thought in Garden, an earlier piece. More whimsical but equally complex, the work is another accumulation of organic objects. Bounded by a small clay-brick wall on one side, a forest of tall grasses on a mossy bed on the other and a light-filtering scrim above, a formal arrangement of upended corn and dill roots are painted to create a canopy of multicoloured trees. Within this “garden” is also a weird assortment of wrapped corn cobs, alien pods that seem to be blindly struggling towards the light. The artist provides an equally bizarre reference from her Australian childhood—the human teeth found in her parents’ garden. (Its previous owner had been a dentist.)

In “Ornamenta” Osborne delivers an aesthetic punch while offering viewers a complex discourse. She also sets up a playful challenge—to identify the myriad bits of our natural world that have found their way into the artist’s toolbox.

“Ornamenta” opens at the Penticton Art Gallery on March 13, 2009, Harcourt House, Edmonton, on July 30, 2009, the Moose Jaw Museum on March 25, 2010, and the Esplanade Arts Centre, Medicine Hat, on September 25, 2010.