Jenny Kitchener: Pollinate

Above: Jenny Kitchener, Parrott and Honeyeater. Right: Sighted Beetle III. Below: The Family Portraits folder.




Jenny Kitchener discusses her latest exhibition, Pollinate.

What were some of the foundation ideas for Pollinate and how did you work with them?

My two previous solo shows, Array, (2014) and Folly, (2015) attempted to highlight the decline of the pollinating insects, which include bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies and moths. The indiscriminate use of insecticides and habitat loss are important contributing factors in this decline. These insects are essential to many plants reproductive cycles and for the future biodiversity of the planet.

Pollinate continues this concern, shifting the main focus to the pollinating birds. Australia is unusual in that our birds are globally outstanding as pollinators. The two main pollinating families of birds are the parrots and the honeyeaters. Eucalypts and paperbarks, which form vast forests, are just some of the bird pollinated trees favoured by the honeyeater family. If we lose these birds, we lose the forests.

What are some of the works in the exhibition and how did they evolve?

In the service of trees: bird pollinators – (This linocut was selected by the Print Council of Australia as part of their 2017 Print Commission). This print is a pictorial celebration of the two major pollinating bird families in Australia. The two bird images have been appropriated from some of the very first European depictions of these birds (made by First Fleet artists). Each bird is surrounded by a plant species which it often pollinates. The two bell jars are a reminder of how we tend to place ourselves apart from ‘nature’, and so fail to appreciate the holistic workings of our biosphere. (This print was directly influenced by the book ‘Where Song Began’ by Tim Lowe).

Family: Psittacidae (parrots) & Family: Meliphagidae (honey-eaters) I have reused parts of the above print (and added a collaged full colour version of each bird) which I have then framed in elaborate antique portrait-style frames, in much the same way as we lovingly frame photographs of our own family members. In so doing, I hope to elevate the bird families’ status in our own eyes, and highlight the valuable work that these wonderful creatures perform in their role as pollinators.

Here & there, Bird song & Glimpse – these three artworks are all monotypes. They were printed utilising local plant species found in different specific locations. This is a technique which allows you to print directly from the plant itself, thus producing an accurate and detailed reproduction of its features. This manner of printing harks back to a method known as ‘nature printing’ which dates to the fifteenth century and was used to document different plant types. The plants, along with representations of birds, celebrate the close connection between plants and birds and the interconnectedness of nature.

Sighted – in this series of cut-out silhouettes of various insect pollinators I am once again referencing the idea of the portrait. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries black cut-out silhouettes of heads, often in profile, were a popular way of depicting family members. These insects are pinned to a screen printed background of plants – a reference to the insects pinned for display in biological collections.

Family portraits: Psittacidae & Meliphagidae – this folio of four small linocuts, each with a portrait of a bird head, is alluding to the same ideas as found in the bird family prints (the idea of the family portrait) but in this case, bringing an intimacy to the relationship between the viewer and the bird as the viewer has to handle the print, rather than viewing it behind glass. The storing of prints in a folio is one of the earliest ways of presenting prints. The folios were stored in drawers and only brought out occasionally to be viewed.

The Encroachment seriesan occasional series of mixed media prints are at once both whimsical and serious. The imagery includes various parts of birds, insects and plants floating on a screenprinted bush background. Placed in amongst this natural setting are unnatural objects such as light bulbs and USB sticks which represent the on-going and seemingly insatiable human-centred encroachment into even the last wild places.

You work with various materials beyond printmaking itself – why and how?

Some ideas need other materials or techniques to realise the various concepts I am trying to get across. For example, in the Sighted series I have pinned black silhouette paper cut-outs of insects onto screen prints. The pinned cut-out references scientific display methods and is also alluding to the silhouette portrait. Under glass presents a series of different sized paperweights with prints, displayed on an oval mirror.

For me,  the manner of the presentation of the work is also important. For instance, the antique portrait frames used in Family: Psittacidae (parrots) & Family: Meliphagidae (honey-eaters) give the prints another layer of meaning, that of the family portrait. I will also often hark back to traditional methods of presenting prints. The folio is used to present the four prints in Family portraits: Psittacidae & Meliphagidae and boxes are used to house a series of small monotypes in Small Treasures I and II. Both folios and boxes (solander) have been traditionally used to protect and present prints, before framing became more common.

The format of a print or series of prints can also add extra layers of meaning. In many of the works in  ‘Pollinate’ I have used an oval format as an important signifier. The oval shape has often been used to frame or enclose portraits of people and I have appropriated this tradition and extrapolated it to ‘frame’ portraits of bird family members.

What are some of the possible ways viewers might experience this exhibition as a whole?

One of the buildings at the Grafton Regional Gallery is a lovely old nineteenth century two storey house. I selected this particular space in the lovely ‘Prentice House’ as I knew the interior would work well with the manner in which I wanted to present the work: the use of antique frames, and folios and boxed prints presented in an elegant display cabinet. I also have the sound of birds, recorded from my verandah at home, playing very quietly in the exhibition space.

Jenny Kitchener: Pollinate is at Grafton regional Gallery until 27 May