Kim L Pace
A Fantastic Fermentation of Matter
Danielle Arnaud Gallery, SE11, London,
21st April – 19th May 2018
Kim L Pace’s solo show at the Danielle Arnaud Gallery refused to sit in any one category of analysis. It is rare to not know at the end of a viewing what one has looked at although one thing was certain: the art on view was enchanting and left one feeling rather bewitched. Pace herself explains that she is fascinated with transformation and metamorphosis and that the work is “deliberately left open to enable multiple interpretations as embodied by the psychological phenomenon Pareidolia, where the mind perceives an image where there is none.” Pace seems to be interested in “allowing things to emerge from her unconsciousness” and to invite multiple meanings to be given to her work by a viewer.
At the heart of the work are vegetables. Those common, ordinary and rather dull items that in Pace’s hands become creatures, both alive and at the end of their lives, rotting away to provide perhaps compost for another organism to feed off and grow. In their life, they are joyous, cheeky, poignant, sad, mysterious, playful and useless. Not words you might usually associate with the ubiquitous vegetable and oh dear! such anthropomorphism would make Hans Christian Anderson proud!
Vegetables have been used rarely in art but at times with alacrity. Arcimboldo created portraits of the seasons and of the elements using vegetables (along with fruit, flowers, books, fish) to symbolise the 16th century understanding of the world, playing to the Renaissance fascination with riddles and the bizarre. The portraits are seen as weird and a novelty now but are possibly on spec for the then contemporary interpretations of the natural world as each of the assembled objects were related by characterization and show not only nature and human being combined but also show how closely entwined they were. His portraits give the plant life the status they perhaps deserve given their world-wide ubiquity which we forget in our driven human existence. Pace’s fantastical work can similarly be interpreted as unpicking the current uneasy relationship between mankind and nature, our cultural acceptance of our need to care for the natural world alongside our disregard for its real needs and the sacrifices we need to make in order for the natural world to continue to “ferment”.
And thinking of fairy tales, what of Cinderella? Charles Perrault added the pumpkin (along with the fairy-godmother and the glass slippers) to the ancient story of unjust oppression and triumphant reward, in 1697.
The title quote is from twentieth century artist and literary critic Bruno Shulz from his 1934 text Treatise on Tailors Dummies, where Schulz describes “a species of beings only half organic, a kind of pseudofauna and pseudoflora, the result of a fantastic fermentation of matter”. A quote that brings to mind the bio tech world of our certain future where humans become bio mechanical and bio robotic: “only half organic”: the unsettling thought of human robots of the future being indeed a “fantastic fermentation of matter”. Pace has a “strong interest in the writings of the theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, in particular his discussions about the grotesque”. She explains to essayist Angela Kingston that for him “the grotesque is hybrid… always in motion… the material world being in a constant state of decay and regeneration… underneath the social hierarchies that seek to control it, is an energetic process of constant deformation and renewal.” Pace’s work reminds us how close we are to vegetables, both vegetable and human ubiquitous, how we have genetically modified vegetables and how we strive to modify ourselves. Pace’s work gently reminds us of life cycles and of symbiotic reliance, of the transformation of matter as a vital part of our relationship with our planet.
And why does Yayoi Kusama love pumpkins so much, “I love pumpkins”, the artist explained in a 2015 interview, "because of their humorous form, warm feeling, and a human-like quality and form.” Pumpkins: a representation of the vegetable, of their warmth, protective transformative powers, of their quiet and gentle power. Pace’s “pumpkin”, “Mask 3 Autumn”, is an altogether different being, an orange gimp with a dark power, the size of a child’s face…
Pace’s work allows Kingston to recall Michael Pollan’s radical argument that plants have “agency”, that they have a strategy that takes advantage of animals (including humans) to allow them to grow and propagate around the world more and more successfully. Pace’s work ferments the life in vegetables and gives them a disturbing human sexuality with all its familiar awkwardness and yearning. One of the show’s highlights, to quote art writer Issey Scott, is the “understated but charming Couple, comprised of two parts, with one figure coyly concealing its own "genitalia", satirising human behaviour once more as, naturally, the vegetable has none.”
Her Cactaceae have daring and joy and pride, her Masks are creepy and stark and rather too small. Like an old fashioned fairy tale, these fantastical creatures provide a glimpse of something superficially innocent and darkly ominous, a warning perhaps of a fermentation of matter that dull-witted humans are ill equipped to face.