Deerhart is the result of a collaboration between Northern Writer’s Award winning poet Yvonne Reddick and Royal College of Art Graduate Diana Zwibach. Through Reddick’s highly-descriptive prose and Zwibach’s dramatic charcoal drawings, the exhibition explores the chthonic, esoteric relationship between nature and humanity.
Initially, this heady combination makes Deerhart feel overwhelming. The poems are incredibly rich and written entirely in the first person, tightly interwoven with an overabundance of adjectives. This is perhaps best demonstrated by ‘Devil’s Thunderbolt’, which is packed with enjambment, neologism and alliteration.
The first-person perspective, with the high drama of the description, does not leave a lot of space for the viewer and makes it difficult to grasp the themes Deerhart aims to communicate. Inevitably, as the poems and Zwibach’s pieces echo each other, this intensity is also present in the drawings which make up the other half of the exhibition. Charcoal is a deliberate, powerful medium and in places the pieces feel overpowering. This is most obvious in ‘Ermine Street’, with its combination of faces, words, shapes, and an overwhelming darkness.
However, complex and coherent themes gradually emerge. The poetry speaks of the blurring between the obscure primordial past and the present. In ‘Poem for Eva’, we straddle the Cretaceous period and the modern human world in the act of uncovering and assembling a fossil. In this context, the obscurity of the prose makes perfect sense – it speaks to the strange paradox of contextualising the remnants of the distant past today. ‘Devil’s Thunderbolt’ also becomes clearer, even explicit. The use of charcoal is highly effective; in ‘Deerhart’ and ‘Dry Bird’ we see a tangle of human faces and bestial shapes emerging from the darkness. Strikingly the female form and voice is the principal focal point for the human side throughout.
The curation carves out a clear narrative and progression for the viewer. In the poem ‘Deerhart’, we see the first hint of the animal in the human, and the first sense of going back to the past. The drawing sharing the same name also combines beast and man, but they are clearly defined as separate, and the creature is a familiar one, a deer. ‘I Redecorate My House To Resemble La Cueva de Tito Bustillo’ is midway through the transformation. Modern necessities are swapped for the trappings of a Paleolithic cave; a woman’s face is overgrown with horns and stalactites. By ‘L’Arte de vénerie’, the metamorphosis from human to creature is complete.
Though at times overwhelming in its intensity, Deerhart offers up a sensual and dark insight into the vestiges of the bestial in the human mind.
Until 22nd December
Photo credit: Olivia Langhorn