Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Group show in Derry's Centre for Contemporary Art, named after the 1994 Pavement album, features a range of works inspired by nature and marked by lush weirdness

There is something cosy, domestic, suburban about the presentation of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Derry.

A little nook has been created in which to watch Melanie Bonajo’s video, so you can get a bit of peace away from the bustle of the rest of the house. Ikea pot plants – still carrying their barcode labels and instructions for care – have been placed around the rooms, making the house a home. And a number of the pieces are on stands supported by old curtain poles. Waste not, want not.

There was a similar feel about the 2014 Ryan Gander show, Make Every Show Like It's Your Last. It is clever and funny approach to visual arts presentation by the CCA's curators. The gallery welcomes you and wrong-foots you, like marvelling at an exhibit in Madame Tussauds, until the still-as-a-statue security guard gives you a wink and walks away.

So, secure and homely is the general atmosphere, but what of the subject matter? This is a group show that also deals with psychoactive plants: sedatives, stimulants, euphoric, deliriants. It is about nature and un-nature, art and altered consciousness, re-shaped perception.

There are two sculptures that I love, both by German artist, Veit Laurent Kurz. Standing on a tall table with curtain pole legs, each is a diorama.

Using polystyrol, acrylic, candle jelly, wood, plastic flowers, model grass and glass, Kurz has made models of new, unnatural, natural swamp-worlds, artificially controlled and constantly monitored, their colours threatening and alien. These pieces feel sinister and dangerous, the act of viewing like meddling. It is bold and visionary work. And there is also a touch of the Bond villain’s lair about it, something there too that makes you want to buy a box of toy soldiers and re-enact a battle.

In Dutch artist Melanie Bonajo’s video, 'Night Soil: Fake Paradise Pt.1', a blindfolded woman feels her way through city streets at night. The female narrator talks of uncertainty, doubt, fear, the need to experience and the need to experiment. Here is loss, and an effort to find and re-connect.

We see an indoor pool, luxurious, clean, clear, precise, private, surrounded by furniture that is elegant and exactly placed. A naked woman stands on the diving board, holding in front of her an image of a beautiful beach. And then she is in the water, swimming, playing and then standing still holding again the picture of the beach.

Refracted light distorts her body, the natural light is changed as it shines through the windows and ripples across the picture. The voice becomes angry, scared and defiant. She talks of ceremony, men, ritual, passage. She says that psychedelics saved her life.

There are three prints by the late German artists Karl Blossfeldt, from his 1928 series, Art Forms in Nature. These are images of plants, focussed and concentrated, stripped of context, where nature becomes art, or something else, at least, its structures a subject for enquiry and study, a first step towards alteration.

Ciaran O Dochartaigh, from Derry, exhibits pictures that are held in giant metal frames so that they stick out from the wall, like Athena poster displays. They show khat and datura plants – single branches, or in pots, the angles disturbing and unfamiliar. The colours too are strange, sci-fi shades that are dangerous, poisonous, enticing.

Then there are 15 works by Belfast-born artist Gemma Anderson, from her Isomorphogenesis series. These are experiments in response to natural forms, the development of one new structure from the study of another. Forming, reforming, new birth. The results are like magical marine shapes, or breakdowns of atomic structures, nature re-understood.

This re-creation, or new development, or management is present throughout the whole exhibition. In another piece by Kurz, a watergun becomes part of a branch, to make control more manageable, an exercise in increased efficiency.

Edward Clydesdale Thomson’s 'Belief and Productivity, Jeanette', has miniature Norwegian spruces planted in shelves, on one side of a fake tree. On the other is a giant steel leaf, under which hangs a forestry jacket. And throughout the show, the images from one piece inform the others. Bonajo’s beauty, effort and rituals, both admirable and a little ridiculous, at times, top and tail the whole thing.

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was the second studio album by American indie group Pavement, released in 1994. 'Cut Your Hair' was the first single taken from it. Rolling Stone celebrated the record’s 20th birthday last year, talking of its deranged beauty and its aspirations of pastoral beauty. The songs are funny, beautiful and emotional, and the whole album is full of lush weirdness. It is a fitting title for this similarly ecletic exhibition.

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain runs in the Centre for Contemporary Art, Derry until March 21.