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Home, Manchester, January 2023

Review by Louise Mulvey


Brigitte Jurack’s exhibition ‘Fieldnotes’ brings together sculpture, photography, drawings, video and craft; work she has developed alone and with other participants in the UK, Spain and India over the last four years. The themes range from the natural world and environmental change, to sustainability. One wall is filled with Jurack’s pencil drawings which, as she notes, use less carbon than firing clay sculptures. 

Jurack describes ‘Fieldnotes’ as ‘an invitation to look slowly’ and to ‘consider our individual relationship to the natural environment’. An artist, maker, educator and climate activist, Jurack has a gift for phrasemaking. An earlier project focusing on elderly citizens affected by dementia was called I‘m thinking with my hands

The quarry master’s wife had different ideas, the title of the first photo in this new exhibition, shows black lines painted on limestone in a quarry. The description of the work is vivid and poetic: ‘the immensity of hidden time is laid bare and shimmers in the sun’. I look again; I need to get my eye in. 

I move along photos documenting ‘collaborative happenings’ with Manchester School of Art students, who are placed formally in the landscape. In one, they lie beside trees, which seem to sprout from their navels. I like the playfulness of the pose, perhaps a nod to Ovid’s Metamorphoses? The students lie straight, truer to the horizon than the fields themselves, and I wonder if this is a comment on the rigidity of human thinking. Am I overthinking this? On the partition above the photo, almost out of sight, a crow balances, wings open, talons up.

Next, the videos: in the first one, Jurack suggests ways to introduce rewilding at a local nature reserve such as introducing wild boars, whose digging will ‘open up the land’ (pigs were used at nearby Royal Horticultural Society Garden Bridgewater for the same end). ‘This links it to the camel, which is used in the same way in UAE’, says Jurack. This exhibition covers a lot of ground! The video describes ‘mother’ trees, bracken and lichen, but my attention slides towards a fox sitting quietly (even for a sculpture) beneath the screen, looking towards the exit. 

The second video shows the making of skep beehives from straw. Best done in winter is a circle of these beehives, in stages of completion. The colour and shape appeal, as does the unspoken invitation to join in. Her work, says the description alongside, ‘expresses a reverence for the natural world, environmental sustainability, craft and labour’. The stalks, pushed and bent into shape, gleam a soft yellow; the beehives’ bright white paint and gold cap bring summer heat into the December day. 

And now sculptures: to the right sit a group of Rhesus macaque monkeys which, with the foxes and crows, form the Scavengers. Mostly seated, they are relaxed, almost pensive and, on their plinths, it’s easier to look into their ‘eyes’ (in fact, small, round holes) which seem to gaze just past me. I’m captivated; with the tilt of the head, the set of a face, she’s completely captured an attitude, perhaps even consciousness.

With Scavengers the exhibition comes alive: the people in the photos seem ciphers, representing human interference, but the animals are simply themselves. Or perhaps I turned away from the challenges of climate change and found solace in the natural world, so vividly depicted.