Walking into Natural Interaction, Nick Jordan’s largest solo show to date, I immediately feel entangled in the web of films, prints, photographs, paintings and sculptural works that shape this multidisciplinary exhibition. The greenhouse installation ‘Earth House Hold’ (2023) demands attention through its dominating visual presence, but in the open-plan layout, sounds from the film projections seep into neighbouring works and the dim lighting throughout helps to integrate the pieces as a constellation.
For their Spring series of art exhibitions, HOME have partitioned their main gallery space to present three new solo shows by artists at critical stages of their careers. The initial sense of entanglement experienced in Jordan’s Natural Interaction is aided by the fact that, to see this show, you must have already travelled through Parham Ghalamdar’s immersive exhibition of expanded painting, Painting, An Unending. This network of solo shows becomes a curatorial interaction in its own right. One thing seems to feed another, and symbiotic relationships begin to unfold.
‘The Entangled Forest’ (2023) is a seventeen-minute film which interweaves ground-breaking ecological research with footage of the mystical edge-land textures of Greater Manchester’s woodlands, and the mythical drone of the musical score. Featuring the voice of ecologist Dr Suzanne Simard, the film’s narrative explores the observable interdependencies in the relationships between fungal and tree systems, and the cooperation between diverse species. The visual element of the piece documents the textures and atmospheres seen through these woodlands, showing signs of both human activity and the resilience of plant growth. The audio, made by Otis Jordan and Lord Mongo, makes use of traditional folk instruments and analogue synths to provide an accompanying piece that sounds mysterious and transportive. We are left with a piece of work which is as poetic and magical as it is scientific and educational.
The audio from the film’s score and narrative permeates the surrounding works, connecting them. Dr Suzanne Simard’s observations of mutual aid between tree and fungi networks from ‘The Entangled Forest’ casts a light onto the neighbouring work, ‘Kin Recognition’ (2023). Here, themes of genetics are explored within fungal and plant life, through Jordan’s framed prints made from the spores of mushrooms that were foraged during the making of ‘The Entangled Forest’. The framed prints have been arranged on the wall in the framework of a family tree, referencing the developing research of an organism’s ability to recognise and cooperate with genetically close relatives.
Continuing the theme of genetics, the film ‘Rare Frequencies’ (2021) includes audio clips from conversations with people impacted by rare health conditions. Those in discussion state the vital importance of things like togetherness, community, interdependence, and symbiosis for the general wellbeing of our social structures. Combining these discussions with footage filmed at local nature reserves, where habitats of moss and peatbogs are once again being enabled to thrive, the work uncovers shared similarities between human conditions and conditions of the land, where both rely on a sense of community for survival and nourishment. Playful elements weave through the film, such as rhythmically edited sequences that show visual similarities between shapes and objects. In one, vertical lines in the filmed landscape become dug out troughs, which become sticks on the ground, achieved through editing separate shots together that all follow the same line, drawing up the centre of the screen. This is quietly reminiscent of Richard Long’s ‘Line Made By Walking’ (1967), a visual echo that recurs in the framed photograph just to the left, ‘Index of Species’ (2023), where the visual path of the artist’s pointing finger from the bottom of the photograph joins seamlessly with the base of a tree trunk, continuing the vertical line into the sky.
By showing visuals of human forms in the landscape, and exploring parallels between human conditions and the conditions of the land, these works remind us that similarities and coincidences within the natural world are as much part of us as they are part of nature. They remind us that we as humans are part of the natural world, rather than simply the users or extractors of it.
‘Genetic Sequences’ (2022) continues the themes of genetics and human medical conditions. This film is shot in the urban environment of Vienna, with an element of people watching – the film makes use of wide shots and slowness to see the change of pace between people navigating their environment. Whilst watching both ‘Rare Frequencies’ and ‘Genetic Sequences’ it is difficult to ignore the haunting tones of ‘Mushroom Hunting in the Woods’ (2022), a short black and white film displayed on a small monitor in the corner of the room. With a touch of humour and sequences visually reminiscent of early cinema through its use of cross-cut editing, ‘Mushroom Hunting in the Woods’ depicts the artist spotting fungi through binoculars from a hunting tower in a French woodland, with close-ups of the fungi as if seen by the hunter. The assimilation of audio from one work to the next encourages a feeling of connection and cross-pollination, blurring the boundaries between works so we begin to think of people watching in the street and mushroom hunting in the woods as one and the same. The idea that mushrooms share more DNA with us than they do with plants is recognised with poignancy here.
Jordan’s works throughout this exhibition, which have all been made in the past two to three years, are given a dose of historical context through the inclusion of ‘Archive Material’, which includes eighteenth and nineteenth century coloured etchings of fungal life from the Wellcome Collection, together with museological display cases featuring the artist’s research materials relating to mosses, peatbog habitats, and peat extraction. These additions gently echo the educational and informative notes, as observed in ‘Entangled Forest’.
Natural Interaction is a multifaceted exhibition, where interconnecting works reveal themselves as partially permeable layers, allowing information to flow in subtle and integrated ways. We are told in the audio clips within ‘Rare Frequencies’ that ’we are more similar than we are different’, and that ‘we are stronger together’. Jordan’s exhibition hints that this extends not only between people, but between people and the land, and that we share more than we know if we dig deep enough and observe well enough. The content in Natural Interaction feels not only informative and poetic, but important, in helping us to better connect with our own natural habitats in this time of human-made climate change.
Nick Jordan: Natural Interaction, HOME, 18 February – 4 June 2023.
Neil Greenhalgh is an artist, lecturer, and writer based in Greater Manchester.