LURE by sculptor Kate MccGwire opens at the AVA gallery in King’s Cross in November and will run until the end of January 2013. This is her first major solo exhibition with All Visual Arts and will feature her largest site-specific installation to date. The title LURE is a dual reference to the ring of feathers used by a falconer to call and command their birds, and to the siren-like call of the work itself. It evokes the strange fascination we have with these iridescent, shiny feathers that MccGwire turn into such desirable shapes combined with the equal fear some people experience when exposed to feathers, flapping wings and the unpredictable behaviour of birds whether trapped and domesticated or living in the wild. Birds are always beautiful when viewed at a distance; once you get close, the admiration can turn to unease.


MccGwire’s work cleverly uses the familiar shape of nature’s forms to construct impossible creatures, pitting the beauty of a bird in flight against our instinctive revulsion to these unnatural forms in close proximity. Her sculptures exist in the periphery between the living and the dead, challenging our perceptions of the authentic and the imaginary. The culture of display is also key to the works, exploiting the perverse attraction in wanting to possess the abject and unfamiliar creature, and to exhibit it for all to see.


Coerce (detail)

The exhibition takes the form of a wunderkammer of uncanny specimens and images; muscular, bound and cased in antique glass cabinets, always with an undertone of coiled and deviant sexuality, a sense which the evocative titles encourage. MccGwire’s titles always evoke more than just the meaning of the word, they stick in your throat, choke you, much as you’d imagine the feathers would.


In particular, the voluptuous Orchis manipulates this familiar museum display to enhance the sense of its exoticism and lifelike form. Beneath a glass dome, it hangs limp between the teeth of a scientific clamp, appearing to have been temporarily coerced into submission. The case gives the work the impression of authenticity and familiarity as a specimen of some unstudied creature, isolated within the familiar framework of natural history. Similarly, Cleave, a work in white pigeon feathers has been constrained within a glass cabinet. Challenging our city-born impulse to perceive pigeons as diseased and parasitic creatures, Cleave explores the purity and sensuality of form to attract our gaze. Delving into and out of itself over and again, we fall prey to its allure and undulating physicality. MccGwire’s preoccupation with natural fibres and their creative potential, in particular with hair, is enacted in Splice. The intricately plaited magpie feathers reference MccGwire’s enduring interest in the mythological significance of hair. Placed in this context the meaning twists from girlish plait to something knotted, visceral, anguished and dark.


Dominating the space is the monumental presence of Gyre, a large installation piece bringing together MccGwire’s enduring themes through its gestural obsidian form. Formed from a vast collection of crow feathers, the piece refers to the cultural mythologies of crows as devious creatures, omens of bad luck when seen in pairs and closely associated with death due to their unbidden presence on battlefields and graveyards. These unconscious associations are inscribed in the silken black surface of the structure, and intensify as Gyre’s sheer scale causes it to exceed the boundaries of the cabinet, viscerally invading the formal space of the gallery. The piece appears organic, almost umbilical as its tendrils entwine with one another, wrapped closely to the structure evoking the primal dependence of both mother and child, and the parasite.

LURE | Kate MccGwire
All Visual Arts
2 Omega PLace
King’s Cross
London N1 9DR
Till 16th February 2013

All images by Tessa Angus

Words by Anna Bang


anna bang, AVA, Kate MccGwire,