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Review of Susanna Bauer: In Leaf, Lemon Street Gallery, Cornwall

“It is hard to look at these pieces and not be mesmerised,” wrote Scott Rothstein of Susanna Bauer’s work. German artist Susanna Bauer creates intricate works using naturally dried magnolia leaves, dried wood and yarn. She uses simple crochet and darning stitches surprisingly evenly over the natural shapes to create compositions or “tableaux”. The result is captivating. Visitors to her hugely successful show at Lemon Street Gallery in Truro, are struck by the tremendously even treatment of delicate leaf shapes and hard wooden pieces alike. The tension in the stitches is both intricate and controlled, piercing through these apparently brittle leaf forms and hard wooden sticks and blocks with such apparent ease. This is a very thoughtful exhibition and the artist has clearly given each assembly of shapes, each leaf, each stitch careful and consideration.

Bauer’s Collection is a large display case showing 15 leaves and twigs that have been adorned and shaped perhaps to resemble naïve musical instruments; a dried leaf treated almost like leather, has been sewn into a circular rattle, twigs are embellished with curved finials, other forms have been rolled or decorated. Other sticks have been sewn together or a spidery crochet web has been stitched between little outspread branches in a delicate and almost meditative fashion. Many of her leaf tableaux, such as Connect and Through, show single or multiple leaves that are curved, rolled or simply joined by threads or twig branches into shapes, which Bauer has adorned with intricate crochet. Bauer explains, “The balance between fragility and strength lies in the material and the making, but more importantly it is a central theme in what I want to express with my work.” She underplays the tremendous skill and concentration involved. A respectful, church-like silence envelopes the busy gallery as people observe each work, as they appear delicately against the pure, white backdrop. Bauer suggests that her works relate to “the tenderness and tension in human connections.” In some works like Arc, Bridge, Link and Dancing the leaves could be interpreted as people, with their own history and time, they show “vulnerability and resilience that could be transferred to nature as a whole or the stories of individual beings.” In other pieces the interactions that transpire through the composition are less literal.

Bauer tells me that most of the leaves she uses are magnolia and although they differ very much in size and tone, they are all from the same tree.”What I find most interesting is how each leaf is so unique and, although they all belong to the same species, no two are alike; each one is special with its own characteristics and within this I see a powerful analogy to human beings.” And while Bauer’s works appear so seamless and pure, you might be forgiven for believing that the aim is a remaking of nature, since she removes imperfect shapes, buds, direct and roots, sticking leaves onto cleaned, straight branches. This isn’t the case, however, as she explains how she strives to use the “innate quality” of organic materials to show how close they are to herself, as an artist, and perhaps to all of us. “For me nature is more beautiful and powerful than anything that man can ever do. The technique involved in these pieces is my individual way of expression … The intricacy in the work, the tension of the threads against the dry fragile leaves reflects what goes on inside and outside of us. Time spent with materials that are in the general perception so transient and ephemeral, placing them in a different context and giving them a new power of expression is what matters to me.” And as small children will marvel at a spider’s web or a ladybird, so adult visitors to Bauer’s In Leaf will be amazed by these beautifully intricate leaves and wonder if something magical played a part in creating such enchanting works.

Susanna Bauer: In Leaf, until 27 June, Lemon Street Gallery in Truro, 13 Lemon Street, Cornwall TR1 2LS. Find out more Bauer’s work at www.susannabauer.com.

Sophie Kazan

Credits
1. Through (Side view) courtesy of Susanna Bauer.Taken by art-photographers.co.uk