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A NATURALIST GUIDE TO MAGIC
Full series launching spring 2024
  • If we can learn to talk to an animal, what’s to be learnt from a meadow, a river, a tree or a stone?

    As with many of Anja Niemi’s projects, the artist herself appears in A Naturalist Guide to Magic – self-cast as the lone actress in a typically enigmatic role. This time, though, Niemi’s character is by no means the leading lady; there’s a sense instead that nature is the project’s protagonist, its living landscapes and sentient spirit overwhelming her presence more than ever before.

     

    In one image, a white cowboy hat – the sole trace of a human hand – floats past a desert backdrop, as if carried by a swirling wind. In another, weeds creep gently across a manmade pathway, slowly threatening access to a wooden jetty stretching out on a silver lake. Elsewhere, a band of charging horses gallop freely through a grassy plain, unbridled momentarily from the expectations of their owners.

     

    Whilst the characters that Niemi designs and embodies often follow a trajectory of transformation, the arc of this latest role closely echoes the artist’s own reality. Having bought a horse a few years back, Niemi soon encountered a problem of connection. Her pre-conceived visions of the relationship they’d share fell drastically short, leading her down a winding path of soul-searching. In trying to become attuned to her horse’s needs, to communicate with him somehow – as well as to better understand the energy she emanates – Niemi sought knowledge from a wide range of sources. The process gave her new appreciation for the natural world, with the endeavor to communicate with non-human life forms opening countless new doors.

     

    As was essential to Niemi’s recent journey, the images in A Naturalist Guide to Magic demand that viewers become conscious of nature’s subtlety. In inky monochrome, these images emit a slow organic quality – distinct from the meticulous tableaux that make up Niemi’s previous series. With less pressure on each image to communicate an idea or precise narrative, the visual sum is characteristically open-ended, its quiet poetry ushering in our own fantasies and projections. Whose wishes takes precedence in a world where human control is the status quo – and where our fingerprints leave indelible traces on the landscapes we inhabit? And if we can learn to talk to an animal, what’s to be learnt from a meadow, a river, a tree or a stone?

     

    Text by George King