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Daniel Steegmann Mangrané at The Nottingham Contemporary

22 February 19 words: Dan Welton

A rainforest in the middle of Nottingham you say? I mean I know the weather's been positively tropical lately but that sounds rather absurd. Not in the art world. Our Dan got down to the Contemporary to check out how their new exhibition is more than just forestry...

For his first major UK solo exhibition, Catalan born, Rio based artist Daniel Steegmann Mangrané has taken the Mata Atlântica, a tropical rainforest in South America,as his subject. Despite being one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, centuries of deforestation have diminished the Mata to less than 15% of its original size, threatening its unique wildlife with extinction. Faced with this existential threat, Mangrané’s work considers the prospect of art as conservation; is there a form, he asks, capable of capturing the essence of this disappearing ecosystem?

The Word for World is Forest begins in a dark space, imitating the gloomy atmosphere beneath a dense forest canopy. Six irregularly shaped skylights cut into the gallery’s ceiling allow a partial light to enter the space, each one programmed to correlate with live weather data from the Brazilian forest. The floor of the gallery is dominated by a large circle, at the centre of which a virtual reality headset hangs from the ceiling. With the huge goggles strapped to my face I enter a digitalised rainforest of black and white, disembodied and yet restricted in my movements by the boundaries of the VR sensors. Wearing the goggles, one becomes a momentary object of performance within the busy gallery and as I blindly grope for pixelated shrubs, an acute feeling of ridiculousness accompanies the virtual experience.

Making my way into the next gallery, in which dozens of hand-blown glass branches dangle ethereally from the ceiling, one visitor is asked to carry their rucksack by their side after knocking one of the charming sculptures into a violent oscillation. This piece is named Living Thoughts and for the most part the branches, which each sprout their own flora, twist gently on their given wire.

In a small side room of Gallery 2 is the work 16mm, a projected film shot using a camera attached to a special cable dolly which slowly glides through the rainforest in a perfect line. Mangrané takes a Structuralist approach to 16mm, in which the materiality of the film is emphasised. This is demonstrated not just in the work’s self-referential title, but also in that the dolly was programmed to move along the cable at the same speed as the film itself ran through the camera. The effect is an immersive, continuous shot which draws the viewer into a world of all-consuming vegetation. The film was mesmeric, or at least it was, until a lady unwittingly stood in front of the projector and brought the experience to an abrupt stop. Yet this disruption, along with the queue which quickly developed around the virtual reality goggles and the furious whispers which broke out when somebody pushed to the front, are the very essence of this exhibition; each installation, in all their imaginative appeal, demonstrates the impossibility of a truly immersive representation of the Mata Atlântica and as we grow closer to losing it forever, Mangrané’s work affirms that there will be no way of sufficiently recapturing its singular allure. 

The Word for World is at The Contemporary until the 6th of May 2018. More information on their website.

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