Catherine Woo is known for her visually arresting oeuvre of 'painting with weather'. By using a range of unconventional materials and processes, Woo creates works that are both macro and micro-interpretations of natural phenomena. Her delicate, abstract forms, rendered in intensely detailed surfaces, draw forth various analogies between the body and the environment. In this recent body of work, Woo continues this investigation into the interrelationship between humans and the natural world via layered, undulating and ethereal paintings that examine the complex systems and structures of nature.
In previous works Woo found herself a silent partner to the visualisation of natural forces – vibration, evaporation, reticulation. In this chapter, she is now compelled to make the human element more present by incorporating intimate, hand-painted forms.
Intricate compositions weave together evoking water currents; leaf veins; coral skeletons; pulsing arteries; webs; microscopic snapshots from within the body and formations of earth. In conflating the regions of the body and the environment, new possibilities are explored where the self is inextricable from the environment that contains it. Drawing the exhibition title from a text by philosopher Jane Bennett, Woo suggests that by seeing ourselves as part of a network of Vibrant Matter, we can begin to think more ecologically:"Rather than seeing the environment as something 'outside', beyond our bodies, these patterns and processes suggest being within it – where our own bodies are part of a larger body, intimately and inextricably linked. It is a kind of visual acknowledgment of our participation in a vast changing body of living matter." - Catherine Woo, 2021
As Jane Bennett asserts in the text "such a new found attentiveness to matter and its powers will not solve the problem of human exploitation or oppression, but it can inspire a greater sense of the extent to which all bodies are kin in the sense of inextricably enmeshed in a dense network of relations. And in the knotted world of vibrant matter, to harm one section of the web may very well be to harm oneself. Such an enlightened and expanded notion of self-interest is good for humans." 1.
Visually stunning, these extraordinary paintings simultaneously speak to themes of nature, beauty, the body, and geography, while resisting representation in the pursuit of more philosophical concerns.
1 Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Duke University Press, 2010), 13.
Press release courtesy Arc One Gallery.