John Hurrell – 12 November, 2023
The nine letters of this show make up the words, MINT PROSE, where the ‘freshly new' phrase seems to jeer at the very act of naming. Some other exhibitions have been called I.M.P.O.S.T.E.R. or S.H.A.L.L.O.W. for Cook loves to use language to push the viewer's mind in unforeseen ‘edgy' interpretative directions where cynical undercurrents bubble to the surface.
28 October - 16 November 2023
A glance at the Octavia Cook poster showing images for twenty-six of her brooches, all linked by name to letter shapes, shows that many have been sold to private and public collections. Luckily for this show, we can examine in a cabinet, nine choice items grouped together.
Each work is usually made from acrylic (cut from sheets), silver, purple heart wood galls, and perhaps kauri or Mother of Pearl. The back of each ornament has an attached pin for fastening it to the wearer’s clothing, with that pin designed to reveal the alphabetical letter shape of the first letter of the brooch’s name.
Looking at the photographs from the Anna Miles website, that show both the fronts and backs of Cook‘s work, the implication is that the small brooches can be both worn or presented leaning up on a shelf, exhibiting any one of the two sides. The titled letter-shapes of the clasp with their straight-edged metal strips, encourage this unhidden view. The front ‘visible’ side tends to feature small flat cut-out shapes and tiny studs.
One might wonder whether the back sides deserve the attention they get on the website, for we would never normally treat paintings this way—even if they were very small. Yet here, the back clasps coordinate with start of the brooches’ names, not the actual shape of the broaches. Cook has almost finished creating a whole alphabet, with each brooch is linked to a unique letter of the alphabet that heads an evocative creaturely moniker; thus flaunting a distinct identity.
Of the nine here, all are between E and T, but not including F, G, H, J, K, L and Q. The missing ones may have been sold, or not finished, or the artist has made selection decisions based on a collective identity using the names of exhibition artworks. Like a single word, or a list, or even a poem with anagrams: where meanings of juxtaposed naming words bleed over and intermingle.
The nine letters of this show make up the words, MINT PROSE, where the ‘freshly new’ phrase seems to jeer at the very act of naming. Some other exhibitions have been called I.M.P.O.S.T.E.R. or S.H.A.L.L.O.W. for Cook loves to use language to push the viewer’s mind in unforeseen ‘edgy’ interpretative directions where cynical undercurrents bubble to the surface.
In contrast to, say, her rings and some other brooches, the brooches of this presentation have a loose organic improvised feel. There is no sense of an uber-precise or predetermined order. No fanatical regimentation.
Brooches seen in an austere gallery context are very different from the same ornaments pinned onto colourful (perhaps rumpled) patterned clothes placed over moving bodies, where as decorative images they jiggle around. In a calm and stable gallery environment one can appreciate the hints of Matisse and Arp in Cook’s use of juxtaposed arabesque curvilinear shapes and clear colour—as well as fastidiously crafted, abundant references to various patterns found on, for example, moth wings or plant leaves.
In other exhibitions Cook has utilised well known profiles of the late English Queen within rings and brooches, and inserted her own profile to wear the crown, creating pretty droll, mocking, self-effacing humour—affecting modesty while actually promoting the opposite; entertaining via its ‘impudence.’ For this current Anna Miles show however, the irregular animal patterns and jostling rhythms of nature dominate, as do predator warning motifs, lichen blobs, or repetitive leafy and geological forms.
Here, in the nine ornamental objects Cook has created, ‘culture’ has retreated and the wilderness—now devoid of human participation—has rapidly taken over. In tune with the current very pessimistic zeitgeist, a version of hyper-energised untrammelled modified nature, with its multitude of rampant lifeforms, is enveloping all.