Exquisite, faintly ominous ceramic objects merging plants and insects are at the centre of Angela Valamanesh’s exhibition Everybody’s Everything: Insect/Orchid.
This work is the result of a residency undertaken this year with the Barr Smith Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Adelaide. Valamanesh was drawn to the collection’s original paintings of Adelaide Hills orchids by local botanical illustrator Rosa Fiveash (1854–1938).
In a departure from Valamanesh’s previous unglazed work, these are finished with a shiny dark glaze. “I didn’t want to use glaze for a long time because it interferes or puts a barrier between the viewer and the experience of the clay,” she explains. “I was waiting for a reason to use it.” Like Karl Blossfeldt’s influential early 20th-century photographs of architectural plant forms, these highly polished sculptural surfaces remind the viewer of the extraordinary engineering found in nature at microscopic scale. The glaze is an echo of the shellac varnish we still derive from the k. lacca beetle. At up to 30 centimetres long, Valamanesh’s works have a bigger presence than the orchids and insects they reference. Some will be wall-hung for this show; others will be laid specimen-like in cabinets. Valamanesh plans to display some of Fiveash’s botanical publications alongside her work.
“Some orchids look a lot like human body parts, very fleshy and erotic. And specific insects fertilise some of them – there’s a spider orchid and a bee orchid.” In this way, her blending of different species can be understood as a conceptually as well as materially lucid synthesis. In a culturally divisive and ecologically traumatised present, the personified title of the work might also nudge us towards a gentle reminder that we, alongside all other living things, are made from the same carbon atoms.