Jacques Nimki, 'I want nature', 2009. Image: Kenneth Martin [enlarge]

Jacques Nimki, 'I want nature', 2009.
Image: Kenneth Martin

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REVIEW

Jacques Nimki: I want nature

66 Corporation Street (opposite McDonalds), Corby
18 September - 17 October

Reviewed by: Hugo Worthy »

A meadow of flowers being grown in a disused shop front should be the ideal local authority art project. It should create a moment of natural beauty in the depressed retail environment of the 2009 recession and might remind people of our connection to the land and our shared agricultural and nomadic heritage. It could remind people of our unsustainable lifestyles and the clear impact of man on nature.

I don't think Jacques Nimki's work 'I want nature' intends to do any of these things. It is an exploration of our tortuous relationship with what we perceive to be natural, firmly positioning itself with the current crop of eco-artists concerned with the natural environment, but without the all too common sentimentality and piety. Nimki is clearly as troubled by our ideas about the natural as he is about manmade intrusions into it.

'I want nature' is a planting of wildflowers (aka weeds), species that Nimki found during his residency at Fermynwoods in Northamptonshire, to create a meadow within a disused shop-front in the heart of Corby. Behind the windows is, ostensibly, a glimpse of Arcadia. The grasses and wildflowers create what to most of us looks like a naturally occurring meadow land, some wonderful accident that has rendered the sterile commercial property into something fertile and magical.

Meadows have their particular appearance not because of verdant opportunities for growth but because the conditions are too harsh for larger life forms to develop, sometimes an issue of thin soil and atmospheric conditions, whilst man-made meadows develop in agricultural areas where land is removed from the crop cycle.

This work has a surface similarity to Agnes Dene's Wheatfield, Battery Park City - A Confrontation, in which Dene planted four acres of wheat on Manhattan island creating a photographically astonishing confrontation between the ultra urban and agro-culture. Dene's mystical project leaves little question about where her sympathies lie. Nimki's work is far more subtle in scale and intention than Dene's. It is closer to the kind of bio-tech practices of artists such as John Newling whose interest is in the gap between a myth of virgin nature and the messy reality of humankind's relationship to the natural. Newling's practice uses hydroponic sustenance for plants (most famously the 'Chatham Vines'), and like Nimki he creates artificial contexts in which plants then grow naturally. This forces us to ask questions around where we perceive limits of the natural, and at what level before we become suspicious of technological intervention. The work, without condemning, asks us to reassess our sentimentality about the natural, and the dogma on which it depends.

Another important precursor to Nimki's project is Michael Landy's suite of prints entitled Nourishment, which documents weeds growing in urban environments. Landy's etchings suggest random encounters with an authentic natural are perceived as natural because their existence is not supported by or beneficial to the manmade environment that they have become parasitic upon. The growth of Nimki's unnatural weeds is entirely defined by the vicissitudes of mankind, in this case our public art policy. What the contrast between Landy's and Nimki's weeds suggests is a positioning of the natural, not in relation to some kind of uninterrupted evolutionary process, but in response to intentionality. For Landy, nature is fundamentally contingent and for Nimki the artificial can be recognised by motivation. Not a particular motivation, but any kind of motive at all, intention being a human privilege.

'I want nature' is a subtle meditation on twenty-first century man's relationship to his environment. Nimki's work creates a paradise-like scene from which we have been expelled. Outside of the building, looking into Nimki's meadow, but being unable to access it, the paradox of the natural begins to emerge. What we consider natural, the unexpected and uncontrolled, is an impossible experience; because our very twenty-first century need for it, our desire to experience it, renders it unnatural.

Venue detail:
Fermynwoods Contemporary Art »
Montague House, Chancery Lane, Thrapstone, Kettering NN14 4LN

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