Constructed Ecologies is an exhibition featuring etchings, woodblock prints, dioramas and papercuts by two British artists who are mostly based in the south of Thailand: Dolores de Sade on Koh Samui, Ralph Kiggell in Krabi. The region is tropical with rainforests, limestone hills, islands, beaches and bays, as well as huge areas of land covered in rubber and oil-palm plantations.
In response to this lush beauty, aware of erosions to the tropical ecosystem and the restrictions of Covid and lockdowns, the two artists draw our attention to nature again, by recording and reinterpreting it in a series of constructed ecologies.
Ralph Kiggell makes prints and collages of imagined plant species, pieced together as chimera, like the ‘lion-goat-snake’ monster in Greek myth from which the term comes. His process of water-based printmaking uses mostly materials drawn from nature: blocks of wood, mineral pigments and handmade papers from Japan, Korea and Thailand. He works with pieces of wood that are jigsaw-cut from larger blocks and reassembles them as prints. In other images, he cuts out plant forms from paper and collages them together. This assembling of pieces mimics the gathering of plant specimens and their recordings dried and pressed for scrap books, as botanical illustrations or laid out in museum vitrines.
Dolores de Sade also collects botanical specimens – in this case mainly broken branches and driftwood. In a group of dioramas, she recombines these gathered elements with other found objects into imagined settings and hybrid landscapes that contain new meanings and insights. Also shown are a series of de Sade’s exquisitely detailed etchings, using a process popularised by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century horticulturalists to record and share their plant knowledge among an international audience of scientists. The twisting, rooted growths she depicts are bound and tethered by structures that push up and pull down, that protect and constrict.
In the same way that horticulturalists might graft various plants to incorporate properties from their parent plants as a way of cloning, both artists clone, too, in their imaginative, sometimes grotesque, compositions. This piecing together of parts is like the old parlour game of ‘consequences,’ or a similar game known as ‘exquisite corpses’ – used by the Surrealists in the last century. Somehow, in their twists and turns these chimera also mirror the discordance and morphing of our globalized world.