Gone to Seed

Belfast artist Claire Morgan's stunning installation at The MAC, on show until January 2013, elevates the Sunken Gallery to new heights

The Sunken Gallery in The Metropolitan Arts Centre. I feel sorry for it. I think it needs some love.

Smaller and less adaptable than its eldest sibling, the Upper Gallery, never as spoiled as the pampered Tall Gallery – which recently housed an exhibition of LS Lowry paintings – the Sunken Gallery has languished in the background since The MAC opened in April 2012 like a misbegotten middle child. Those formative months were lonely – the Sunken Gallery had issues.

But while the former spaces have grabbed the headlines, and enjoyed the majority of footfall since the sliding doors on Belfast's newest arts facility opened with a silent 'woosh', the time has finally come for the Sunken Gallery's 'coming out' party. It has a strut in its step – and a very glamorous date on its arm.

Belfast-born, London-based Claire Morgan comes with a reputation as an artist with an extremely original vision and an international standing – an exhibition of her 'blood drawings', for example, made national headlines when it was exhibited in Paris recently.

She may not be the biggest name currently on display in The MAC, but whilst Peter Doig's Imaginary Places (Upper Gallery) and Mary McIntyre's A Contemporary Sublime (Tall Gallery) attract few visitors during the busy lunchtime I spend there, the same cannot be said of Gone to Seed.

Gone to Seed

 

This stunning installation has elevated the Sunken Gallery to new heights. It is an incredibly impressive piece that deals, as is Morgan's wont, with the juxaposition between nature and synthetic reality, but it is not a straight forward work. It is, rather, surprisingly deceptive, seeming to reinvent itself when viewed from different angles.

Though it only takes up a space around six foot square in the middle of the room, it seems to inhabit the entire gallery. The Sunken Gallery is a dark space, with drab, concrete walls, but in this case, that's a good thing. Gone to Seed fairly shines there; white walls would have engulfed it.

Gone to Seed is made up of many hundreds of transparent nylon wires, to which are affixed hundreds of feathery thistle seed heads that have burst into life and which give the piece a gorgeous textural quality. These seed heads form a sphere that has been broken in two by the trajectory of a falling crow (taxidermy being another of Morgan's interests), which hangs suspended just above the floor in the middle of the piece.

If that all sounds a bit too 'Turner Prize', rest assured, it isn't. Gone to Seed is much more accessible and pretty than anything featured on the 2012 shortlist. It is truly a world-class piece of sculptural art that recalls the oeuvre of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who works with similar materials and on an equally ambitious scale.

From the stairs that lead down into the Sunken Gallery proper – where you can hear the tinkling of cutlery in the cafe round the corner – it looks like some sort of huge stringed instrument hung from the ceiling, a harp as designed by Jean Paul Gaultier for The Fifth Element. You imagine the individual wires working in unison to create a symphony of mellifluous chords, only for the melody to be spoiled by the incoming vertebrate.

From other angles, the translucent wires pick up the light of the spotlights located in the corners of the gallery, and form rainbows of white, silver and blue, recalling the multi-coloured string installation in the building's foyer – stare directly at the spotlights and the little splinters of light bend, like so many shooting stars traversing tiny globes.

The broken orb in the middle of the suspended wires is reminiscent of an oversized dandelion, which in turn reminds me of summer and makes the taxidermy carion crow seem unnaturally small in comparison. It is the object out of place, from this angle at least – a miniature animal plunged into an Alice in Wonderland landscape where the blow flowers are obstacles to be avoided.

From other angles I see an orb within an orb, an orb shaped like a heart (as if the piece wasn't beautiful enough), and start to think that perhaps the orb is supposed to resemble a cracked egg spilling its black-feathered newborn onto the ground below.

Gone to Seed is really like an ingeniously conceived, perfectly executed magic eye puzzle: stare at the translucent wires, at the refracted light and the delicate seed heads long enough and you might just fall into a trance – or into the orb itself. Now there's an angle I'd love to see.

Gone to Seed is on show in The MAC until January 20, 2013.

Gome to Seed