Jenny Crompton | Bloomtime
1 December – 20 December 2018
Where, in this decidedly uncomfortable and foreboding age, does the line between ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ sit. For most of us, being ingested in a plastic and metal object that spews poisons into the air as it moves with unnecessary urgency is a ‘natural,’ daily, practice. Sitting, for hours on end, in an air-conditioned cubicle, staring at a cathode screen, is a ‘natural’ pastime. This is what we do day-to-day, thus it is natural (without inverted commas). And while we may still go to the beach or on a walk in the bush on rare occasions, these are deviations to the norm, ‘unnatural’ special occasions.
For better or worse, Jenny Crompton leads an extremely ‘unnatural’ life. She spends as little time festering indoors as she can. Rather than a cathode screen she will send her gaze towards the horizon line of the ocean with its seemingly limitless potentials, or she will settle closer to the tangible, scanning the intimacy of the rock pool and the detritus of the beach with its myriad shells and bird feathers and the occasional tiny crab. Or alternatively Crompton will head into the bush, walking through spiderwebs as she scours the surface in search of the remnants of its denizens – a lizard skin here, a kangaroo femur there, half buried there amidst the fecund mosses, surreal orange fungi, bright psychoactive mushrooms and the delicate fronds of a budding fern.
Of course, this is unnatural. This is a world for the bulldozers to clear, for suburban development to take its rightful place. For we are humans. Contemplating the natural world is time-consuming and distracting. A well-trimmed lawn is enough, for it is known as a ‘nature strip.’ More than enough thank you.
But this is not Crompton’s world.
In 2018 Crompton presented a massive installation at Ballarat’s BOAA – Biennale of Australian Art titled Phototaxis. It was not unlike falling into a deep-sea underwater grotto. At first, I assumed the title to a be a pun, a made-up pseudo-scientific term. Like most folk, for me the word ‘taxis’ evoked a smelly, yellow vehicle for hire. And to be sure, movement was a part of the activities Crompton was portraying, but in this case Crompton, with her strange empathy for all living things, had created a monument to phototactic organisms, that is, creatures who move their bodies to capture light for photosynthesis. For all of its utterly ‘natural’ appearance, apart from some drift wood and jute, Crompton completed her floating, ethereal creatures with recycled copper wire, cast resin, enamel paint and LED lighting. Still, the sense of these creatures being ‘natural’ living and sentient creatures was overwhelming.
In 2016 Crompton was awarded the prestigious Lorne Sculpture Biennale, Sculpture Trail Award and the People’s Choice Award. The winning work, Sea Country Spirits, was acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria. It was a deserved win. Hanging at discreet spaces amidst the foliage, it was hard not to feel that one had walked into a sacred zone, a place haunted by floating memories, mimi spirits and dream catchers, a place that would have been captured by Sigmund Freud’s term unheimlich – the unhomely – which is an apt term for much of the Australian bush to the average balanda or white person. Bone-white, these entities seemed to represent both a celebration and a warning, for Crompton is almost painfully hyper-aware of the degradation of nature in the age of the Anthropocene.
Crompton’s creatures, with their vibrissae protuberances, extended receptors, decorative flourishes and peering eyes created an entire tribe of fantastical entities. Created with largely natural, scrounged emu feathers, kangaroo bones, shells, twine and pigment (with some recycled copper wire and cast resin thrown in for good measure, they seemed to assimilate with the bush with odd ease.
“I am wonderfully spoilt with the amazing natural world here on the Victorian surf coast,” Crompton told Studio International, adding anecdotally; “It can be quite odd seeing a woman lugging back a full kangaroo carcass across paddocks or strolling the beach with a huge knife and bag of collected kelp. Repurposing found objects takes time and is dependent on the seasons and natural cycles of the land.”
But these environs she so clearly cherishes are under extreme peril. Despite the imperialistic shrugs of indifferent developers and conservatives, the world, under our own hand, is changing at a catastrophic rate. There is, accordingly, a degree of melancholy underscoring Crompton’s most recent work in Bloomtime.
The rich coastal waters around the Bellarine Peninsula, upon which Crompton bases her series, have witnessed the seasonal blooms occurring over millennia. These organisms, referred to as phytoplankton or micro-algae, form the base of the food web upon which nearly all other marine organisms depend. “Microscopic marine life and bloom events occurring in these waters go unseen, like spirits, responding to the seasons, climate change and the pressures this world is placing upon them,” Crompton says. “Their health and connections, affect the vitality for life on this coast.”
Despite any hint of melancholy, these works are also clearly celebratory. Her blooms explode with colour, more like elaborate headdresses for attracting a mate than any literal depiction of a microorganism. They seem to float, weightless, oranges, scarlets and crimsons bursting from webs of shell. Dried seaweed, feathers and bones repurposed to remind us of the sheer bounteous nature of this planet.
In the age of the Anthropocene, where humanity appears hell-bent on sucking the planet dry, it seems as though it is woman who have the stranglehold on common sense. By utilising nature as a core of their practice they light a flare of warning and ignite a fire of recognition of the natural world. In Australia, such artists as Penelope Davis, Maria Fernanda Cardoso and Fiona Hall are amongst a growing chorus of aesthetic educators. Sadly, they remain the ‘unnaturals.’ Most people seem to find nature unheimlich. Their air-conditioned apartments are safer.
– Ashley Crawford, 2018
Jenny won the 2016 Lorne Sculpture Biennale and her work is part of the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria.