Zina Swanson’s paintings, sculptures, and installations draw on plant-related lore, and while they’re often humorous and uncanny they also hint at a darker view of humanity’s relationship to the natural world. Her paintings are detailed, precise. The visual pleasure of her use of repetition is also undeniable: a silhouette of a head composed of pressed forget me not flowers; a skirting of blades of grass and “fake” four-leaf clovers that rings the gallery; two walls of painted freckled noses appearing to close in on a blooming tiger lily. Though take a step back from this last work, and the noses collectively could be mistaken for a pair of menacing wasp nests. Swanson aims to unsettle. Her practice has an ongoing relationship with several texts including Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird’s infamous The Secret Life of Plants (1973), Primary Perception: Biocommunication with Plants, Living Foods, and Human Cells (2003) by CIA lie-detector specialist Cleve Backster, and Animal and Plant Lore (1899). What Swanson has in common with these “pioneers” of plant research is an inquisitiveness bordering on suspicion in the beauty, complexity, and potential of plants. Still, there is always a human presence in her works—the outline of a face, noses, a hand—or something that suggests a human has been here: a window, neatly arranged sticks. These works are often smaller in scale, though this is one of their strengths. They’re scaled for an interaction with the viewer that is personal, intimate, and so wonderfully unnerving.
Zina Swanson (b. 1981, Christchurch, New Zealand) lives and works in Christchurch, New Zealand. She has exhibited extensively with solo and group presentations at most of New Zealand’s top galleries and museums. These include the Christchurch Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, City Gallery Wellington and Artspace Aotearoa. Her works are also held in the collections of the Wallace Arts Trust, Christchurch Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and The Dowse Art Museum, and she has been the recipient of the prestigious Frances Hodgkins Fellowship, and in 2014 was an Apexart New York Inbound Resident.