Our Director of Arts & Events, Sophie, takes a look back at some of her favourite works from the Nunnery Gallery’s past exhibitions, starting with a still life photograph from Mariele Neudecker’s Plastic Vanitas series.
Still life with Ketchup Bottle and Lemon, 2015 © Mariele Neudecker, courtesy Galerie Barbara Thumm
Mariele Neudecker’s 2016 Plastic Vanitas exhibition presented a series of photographic works developed as part of a residency at Museum of Design in Plastics (MoDiP). Using MoDiP’s wonderfully various collection of plastics from the past 150 years, Neudecker created Vanitas compositions through her discerning camera lens. Vanitas still lifes use symbolic objects to remind the viewer of their own mortality, often drawing our attention to the worthless vanity of objects of pleasure or wealth. Meditative with meaning, the images re-arrange these seemingly everyday objects on a stage, where, cloaked in humour, curiosity and metaphor, they tell the tales of our modern-day plastic vanities. Neudecker’s concern for the environment has always played a role in her artwork – she was filming plastic particles in our seas long before Blue Planet – and her quiet gaze on the damaging multiplicity of plastic is poignant.
So many wonderful images made up the exhibition: hair curlers lined up like waiting soldiers (about to commence battle); early 19th-century plastics with their magically marbled surfaces; a lonely hockey helmet, sat skull-like on enveloping depths of black. But my favourite was always the ketchup bottles. Crowded round the lens, their shapes gleam with pride, caps fitted to attention, with the ‘tomatoes’ fatly rotund at the back. Imitating the natural flavours they represent, these bottles are fiendish cartoon versions of themselves – the lemon even supernaturally forming into a fish in a twisted play of united seasoning. Their silliness is curtailed by Neudecker’s hushed rays of light; these condiments are darkly hallowed side by side, slightly ominous in a motley crowd. The salad cream emerges finally from the shadows, the tallest and the most mundane; a reminder of the true nature of these vessels and their throw-away roles in reality.