Ode to the life of a barn owl


PAPER swans to infinity: Bronwyn Lace’s Light Blinds Without the Dark. Photograph courtesy Everard Read Gallery.

IN 1970, AN extraordinary poem by South African poet Douglas Livingstone saw light of day. Gentling a Wildcat is a profound contemplation of the meaning of life as observed through a feast, conducted with frenzy by insects on the body of an animal. It’s about death viewed through a lens everlasting, and it is with a similar sense of rightness that you pull yourself away from the eponymous work in Bronwyn Lace’s current solo exhibition, Mirror Mirror.

The work is a stop-frame video piece featuring music by Nhlanhla Mahlangu and Xolisile Bongwana, with cinematography by Victor Neustetter and editing by Noah Cohen. The context is in the Natural History Museum in Vienna, and it has been filmed over many many hours, watching carrion beetle (Dermestes maculatus) feasting on the body of a barn owl. Filmed as it is, presented as it is, the work conveys a sense of kaleidoscopic religiosity. There are patterns and sequences, there’s a crazy dance motion as the bones of the bird get shifted in the process, but ultimately, it’s an artmaking gesture which surpasses anything you may have seen on this topic, and you leave the space, eventually, consumed by its rhythms and by those of life and death.

As the signature piece of a very powerful and profound exhibition, and alongside the show by Tamlin Blake, the body of work is meditative. It skips the boundaries of ego and reaches in to a scientific curiosity that draws you in and nourishes your soul.

Lace works with bones and origami, with ancient precepts, Rorschach test variables and fish hooks in Mirror Mirror. In most of the works, there’s is an overriding aesthetic muscle that draws you closer and doesn’t allow the work’s ethos to be lost in nature-loving twee.

“In perseverance there is peace…” says one of the texts on the wall, written by Koulla Xinisteris. It’s a contemplation of a work which features hundreds, perhaps thousands of swans made of folded paper, speaking of magic wishes granted in the eye of labour intensivity.

Mirror Mirror is a beautiful, gentle, yet robust and highly developed exhibition which will allow you to remember, in peace, that you are but mortal in this world.


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