Exploring Visual Arts across Madison
Mar 27, 2014
Briony Morrow-Cribbs’ Subverted Science
What might first draw your eye to the work of Briony Morrow-Cribbs is the crisp detail she employs in images of animals, insects and plants. But closer inspection reveals that this tidy aesthetic paves the way for a split from the natural world. A scientific approach is a beautiful vehicle for exploring unusual, unnerving and even grotesque manifestations of reality both true and imagined.
In the Diane Endres Ballweg Gallery on the third floor of the Madison Public Library’s central branch, Morrow-Cribbs offers Tera Incognita, a show combining several series of her work.
Drawing on the concept of unknown or unexplored territory, the exhibition serves as a fantastic overview of the artist, who grew up on Washington state’s Puget Sound and moved to Madison to study printmaking at UW, where she now lectures on etching.
In her statement for Tera Incognita, Morrow-Cribbs writes that she likes to create “suspended scenes” in her work. “In viewing these scenes there’s a possibility that a moment of subversion may occur: Can there be a place where the sensations of disgust meet that of longing? Is it possible to document the exact moment where the monstrous slides between revulsion and desires? My intentions are to create moments where boundaries are blurred and identification and classification are denied.”
Even the most straightforward works offer surprises. One long gallery wall is devoted to illustrations Morrow-Cribbs created for two 2009 books by Amy Stewart. Beautifully detailed hand-tinted etchings of flowers, leaves, stems, roots and vegetables make up part of the row, while the other portion is devoted to hand-tinted etchings of insects—a fly, centipede, beetle, flea, locust, hornet, spider, cockroach, bed bug and more. The prints are stunning, with the artist’s signature style allowing viewers to notice the elegance in the insects’ shapes, textures and patterns.
The illustrations come from books that argue a more sinister side to plants and insects. Both Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities and Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects are on display in the exhibition.
On the opposite wall, Morrow-Cribbs takes viewers on a journey through elements of nature both real and fantastical, from falcons, lizards and two-headed snakes to hybrid creatures like a moth with a bird’s head and a fish with bird’s feet.
A series of larger hand-tinted etchings shows pairs of foxes, lizards, birds, octopuses and turtles locked in embraces. The animals appear to be fighting but are actually mating—the ambiguity between sex and violence becoming another psychological subversions in this incredibly interesting show.
Tera Incognita runs through April 25 at the Madison Public Library’s central branch. For more information, visit madisonbubbler.org.