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Waterfront Festival

Exhibition Review: Murmuration at Beam Gallery

9 April 22 words: George Dunbar

Taking inspiration from the aerial flight of starlings, Nottingham-based visual artist Wolfgang Buttress presents new work at Beam Gallery, in his latest exhibition Murmuration

With mark making and photographs turned into white fire, a reflective and experimental new series of works by Nottingham-based artist Wolfgang Buttress is being presented at Beam Gallery. Scratchy dark glass panes with mysterious sketched lines and faint shadowy shapes take the appearance of a floating gestural formation. Murmur, a work made specifically for Beam, consists of 42 hand-printed analogue photographs made in collaboration with photographer Daniel Wheeler - palimpsests of repeated and effaced writing - confront us as we walk into the space.

A local to Nottingham, Buttress produced this series of work from trips around the local Netherfield and Attenborough Nature Reserves in the winters of 2021 and 2022. Accompanied by a selection of Buttress’ other paintings and smaller, more sculptural works. Murmuration is a quiet and reflective moment in the often bold and dramatic art career of Buttress.

The title of this exhibition is an interesting one. A murmuration is a large group of birds, most commonly starlings that perform coordinated aerial stunts in the winter months. The birds do this half consciously; it’s instinctual, creating what appears to be a constructed dance. Buttress plays with this idea of the deliberate through the constructed acts of his work. He captures the beating pulse and energy of the natural world - the reverberations, the rebounds, the reflections - a quietly murmuring life that exists in harmony with the human built world.

He captures the beating pulse and energy of the natural world - the reverberations, the rebounds, the reflections - a quietly murmuring life that exists in harmony with the human built world

Murmuration calls on us as humans to live within and reflect the imprint of nature. It is an exploration of the importance and poetry of natural forms, and how they intersect with our built world. Buttress creates structures in our human built environment that speak to a deeper, more natural and physiological instinct. His work here is like a structural study of human life, as well as a study of the wild.

It is with this experimental approach that he approaches photography. He prints an analogue black and white photograph onto a glass pane, reminiscent of wet plate photography from the 19th century, which used a wet light sensitive solution on a plate or sheet of glass to form the image. Inevitably, this would produce ‘process artifacts’; imperfections in the image resulting from the process of its creation.

Buttress emulates these artifacts by drawing on the photographs to make these imperfections  deliberate. He combines the deliberate act with the natural process, highlighting the beauty in nature of how a seeming imperfection or non-deliberate thing can become intentional. He turns the human act into the imprint of nature; the art is both a commentary on its own process of creation as well as on its subject matter.

It is almost as if Buttress is inviting us to just gaze out of a window. I could see flocks of birds flying in formations through the cold winter sky with bare tree branches, finally bringing me back into connection with the art in the room

Buttress creates a quasi science fiction around the work and then plays with that. In Buttress’ previous work, Blossom, 2021, his scientific approach was at the fore.  Buttress attached accelerometers to a 200 year old apple tree, taking a 3D scan of it and then laser etching the scan into cast glass. This way, nature was truly reflected in an almost scientifically accurate way. Buttress turned science into sculpture, poetically revealing the life and death cycle of trees. As Buttress said; “The sculpture expresses how life is formed and hopefully allows us to reconnect with the natural world around us.”

Beam, with its tall, airy windows, is vividly reminiscent of the large panes of glass that Murmur is made from. It is almost as if Buttress is inviting us to just gaze out of a window. I could see flocks of birds flying in formations through the cold winter sky with bare tree branches, finally bringing me back into connection with the art in the room. Reflective in more ways than one, Murmuration invites us to take stock of the natural world that’s around us and ponder on the beautiful architecture of nature in our built world.

Wolfgang Buttress: Murmuration is on view at Beam Gallery until April 23

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