Helle Ryberg, curator 2005
»Carniflora« is a word of the British artist Rebecca Stevenson’s own invention; it derives from the root »Carni-« (flesh or meat) and »flora« (flower or plant). »Carniflora« has echoes of »carnivorous«, »carnal« and »carnivalesque”« – all of which could describe the artist’s preoccupation with both the visceral and the sensual. The surprising juxtaposition of the two words in the title points to the twofold nature of Stevenson’s works.
The twofold character is seen in the motifs, which are a combination of naturalistic sculptured monumental human or animal heads and an integrated yet more abstract part, where the sculpture is undergoing a transformation and the motif is disintegrating. The solid form is threatened and the head is exposed as a hollow shell or mask; the boundaries of the object are no longer fixed, but mutable and hard to define. The viewer initiall encounters the work from a distance, but is gradually drawn to the internal landscape of each object. This inner space which is viewed via cuts and openings is rich with detail and colour. Suddenly the body or object appears as a baroque spectacle, beautiful and grotesque at the same time. A fascination with brutal decay where the familiar form is on its way to becoming abject. The cutting and opening process is used to mirror an anatomical dissection and it becomes clear that the artist is influenced by medical and anatomical imagery but also by decorative expressions such as Dutch flower painting, still life and botanical illustrations. Stevenson’s works reveal a fascination with decoration as a fetishistic act, an acting out of desire, which replaces or covers over an object’s original meaning.
Stevenson is concerned with the material fabric of the body and with interior and surface, and she uses a range of hard and soft materials (including cast metal and wax) to mirror the different textures and densities of skin, flesh and bone. Wax not only looks like flesh, but is traditionally associated with objects that act as doubles or stand-ins for the human body, either for ritual purposes or medical ones. By using a soft material that appears hard she challenges the traditional sculpture’s hard surface. In one case she makes a horse head look like marble which gradually changes and erupts into soft flower-like layers. This transformation disrupts the reading of the object as a solely human or animal body. The material aspects emphasise a tactile aspect of her works and points to the viewer’s visual perception and somewhat phenomenological approach to the sculptures.
A category often used in modern literary- and art-theory is the term the aesthetic of hideousness or ugliness. The term is relevant to some of the artistic expressions one encounters in contemporary art in the nineties. Even though the works of Stevenson have a “feminine” sensual character and present themselves in an aesthetic way, they also seem to imply an irrational and disturbing element. The sculptures are hybrids which both seem to fascinate and repulse in their combination of the recognizable and the fragment – of the body part and its “decomposing”. In some way the viewer is confronted with death and the condition of being flesh – and metaphorically speaking the death of the traditional, “non-threatening” sculpture. The boundaries are gone in every sense and this excess has a clear link to the unknown, the absurd and to death.
Stevenson’s work deals with the limit between the internal and the external as the object is not a closed entity - but instead an amorphous disfiguration. By using decay in an aesthetic way these “death masks” combine numerous perspectives for the viewer and provide a glimpse into a twofold sculpture of biological imagination.