Critics’ Picks

Jakob Rowlinson, A Complicated Courtship, 2021, felt, eyelets on board with aluminium chains, copper and PVC, 43 x 21 1/2".

Jakob Rowlinson, A Complicated Courtship, 2021, felt, eyelets on board with aluminium chains, copper and PVC, 43 x 21 1/2".

Margate

Jakob Rowlinson

Quench Gallery
Cliftonville Avenue
August 28–October 10, 2021

Jakob Rowlinson’s exhibition “Visions of a Whispered Past” transports viewers to a bucolic setting with two statement walls in shades of fern and forest green that tap into the divine powers of fecundity, renewal, and healing. Through his research into medieval queer ecologies—leaning particularly on twelfth-century mystic Hildegard of Bingen’s concept of Viriditas, the greening green—Rowlinson attempts to subvert the certainties of historical and biological narratives, such as those that portray queerness as “unnatural.” In the postmedieval marginalia of his textile and felt wall hangings and collages, the artist imagines a more joyous, multispecies future. 

Rowlinson’s confident command of the rich historical and visual material is evident. Works like Anus Horriblus, 2020, and A Complicated Courtship, 2021, carry heraldic references interlaid with sophisticated queer-coded symbolism. One of the most seductive pieces is Pruning Stimulates New Growth, 2021. Framed in latex and suspended from the ceiling, the double-sided shield-shaped sculpture is adorned with a delicate aluminum chain that could double as a piece of harness jewelry for a fetish party. The imagery centers around a hand pierced through with the ornamental branches of the Mandragora (a hallucinogenic plant with a wide range of applications in medieval medicine and magic) and a cabbage-butterfly motif. The latter, according to Bruce Bagemihl’s 1999 volume Biological Exuberance, is one of more than 450 animal species that regularly engage in homosexual behavior.

The exhibition revels in its apparent and hidden symbolism and quasi-erotic excess, its gamey display giving off a whiff of naked flesh, moist forests, magical herbs, and gothic manuscripts stained with blood and wine. To quote the preposterous and playful quasi-graffiti adorning one wall: “Queer Woz ’Ere.”