Published on Culture 24
Small Wonders: A Museum of Imagination by Zara Wood, Boxbird Gallery, Hove, until July 12 2009
Despite recent illustration work for Top Shop and Stussy, a new solo show by Zara Wood travels a long way from the catwalk, taking you instead to a dusty world of antique display cases, animals which may be stuffed and anthropological curiosities.
The collection of nearly 40 pieces is numbered similarly to exhibits in a museum and if the sequence doesn’t quite tell a story, it does build a narrative effect as familiar motifs repeat themselves. There’s a hoard of pirates, a bevy of sad-eyed girls and a parliament of owls.
This works so well that No.25, The Invisible Girl with Owl Portrait, need only supply you with a tiny picture of the ubiquitous bird. The frame is otherwise empty for you to conjure the female figure yourself.
There are many more light touches, such as the wave made from rolled paper in The Storm Subsided, which threatens to overwhelm a small boat containing another owl, while a picture-book moon scowls down from the backboard.
Here, as elsewhere, Wood fills a cabinet with 3D scenery to create what she calls a diorama. She says her show is inspired by the expeditions that helped fill the Pitts Rivers Museum in Oxford and the Museum of Natural History in New York. These miniature stage sets capture that best.
It’s a short voyage round the Boxbird Gallery, but it does offer the chance to meet a full-size stag. Charcoal lines and packing cardboard are both used for Stag with Friend. This tour de force is as large as most of the other work is small, yet still feels like an element of scenery.
The beast’s friend perches on an antler, a strange bird-child. “I’m an only child, so I had lots of early relationships with pets and animals, and they are always quite close to my work,” says Wood. There’s a sense of make believe to this show which is infectious.