Natalie Guy appears to be retro-fitting modernism for our long since lapsed post-modernist world. Unprepared to relinquish the utopian aspirations and appealing cleanliness that characterised the multiple peaks of mid-century architecture, design, and art, Guy is calmly re-purposing modernist aesthetics almost half a century later and in doing so reminding us how post modernism threw the baby out with the bath water.
Whilst Guy herself describes her work as “pseudo” modernist I’m not sure that using that moniker is correct. In fact it may be more appropriate to simply say she is a modernist sculptor. The notion that modernity is over rather depends on where you are standing. One of the larger problems inflicting much current practices is the confusion between referencing and deeper memory and regard. Guy isn’t making glib references to modernist clarity of thought and realisation. She is not pining (loudly at least) for the utopian dream…she is simply aware that there is much to be done in the persistent wake of modernism.
These new works of Guy’s speak to the Japanese history of Ikebana, itself a centuries old practice that folds aspects of Buddhist and Shinto spirituality around aesthetics, nature and beauty. Guy’s approach is to draw on the refinement and distilled aesthetics that are evident in Ikebana and apply a new material minimalism to her “arrangements”. By casting branches in bronze Guy ensures the longevity of the element whilst further transforming them and their aesthetic future. Combined with brass rings and plates the relationship between foundation and sculpture is occasionally reversed. The branches function as a kind of stabilising root element holding the ring in vertical place.
The developments of Ikebana in a 20th century modernist world, into what is referred to as the “Free Style”, have further popularised the practice. In many of these new works Guy has given herself greater latitude, letting her remade elements come together in a more whimsical collision. Like a magic “ring rope” trick the brass circles balance themselves on their narrow supports or hang low under a chain, jewellery-like.
If modernism was based on the notion of form dictating function and vice versa, then Natalie Guy’s works continue to evolve a life that is free of such obligations. For form exists in the service of aesthetics, and function is not clear..though this may prove to be the most enduring function it can have.