Stardust and Time: John McEwen and Veronica Verkley Durham Art Gallery
Stardust and Time: John McEwen and Veronica Verkley Both John McEwen and Veronica Verkley think with animals. Animals are the primary protagonists in Verkley’s animation, shaping and being shaped by their environment. McEwen’s figures are formed by an envelope of stars, stars that both contain the figure and spill from it, like stardust. Stardust understood here as a metaphor for the matrix from which all vibrant matter and life evolved. A continuous wall-like surface of negative stars both divides and unites the gallery space, linking the animation and the rising figures. The porous surface allows for light and sound to pass through so that there is no inside or outside, creating an installation within which the narratives become inseparable but distinct. Verkley’s animation reads like a time lapse in which, over seemingly many years, a once well-constructed house slowly decays and finally recedes back into its natural environment. Yet this is not a story of desolation but one of vibrant life. Although abandoned by humans, the environment is a dynamic one filled with weather, regeneration, animals, and the vibrating sound of the natural world. McEwen’s figures are both animals, one human, one non-human. The figures are rising, the dolphin stretched up to its full height, and the human pushing herself up from the ground. Like the fifth element that gives life to matter, arrows emit like breath from her mouth. Both she and the dolphin appear to be singing. The human figure, the dolphin, the material screen, and the animation are on an even plane. Both artists advocate for a lateral relationship between human and non-human animals and the environments in which we are all embedded. Healthy ecosystems require considering the whole: nature / culture, mind / body, the human and non-human animal as entangled and inseparable. Allowing for the intertwining of different elements creates a stronger system wherein cooperation, respect, and acknowledgment, lead to flourishing environments. Hierarchical thinking and competition for survival has led us to disregard the unique nature of others to the detriment of clean air, water, and species survival. A dismantling of these dichotomies can produce a more holistic way of being in the world. Stardust and Time plays out on shifting grounds where relationships are lateral and the cycles of life and death, degeneration and rebirth, are all present. The interdependent energy of life flows through the ‘skins’ containing McEwen’s figures. Against the backdrop of a crumbling structure, natural growth and animal life thrive in Verkley’s Second Nature. The proposition is to celebrate dynamic life and resilience, both human and non human, living and inert. Embedded in McEwen’s forms are arrows illustrating lines of energy, the power of life itself. Verkley’s house, once wholly retaken by its surroundings, gains new vitality from the animals that now inhabit it. Beauty pervades.