Rachel Apelt


Cacophony opened on International Women's Day and, appropriately, the work is about women and women 's experience. Through subtle interplay of colour and images, Apelt's exhibition challenges the absoluteness of a Nature/Culture dichotomy and would seem to stake a claim for relativity, in Nature at least. Her works present a Woman/Nature link which presses the viewer to a consideration of subtleties which convenient and glib classifications allow us to overlook.

A cacophony is discordant sound. At first glance Apelt 's work fulfills that expectation: oranges and purples scream disharmony. The surface, the physical world, is filled with dissonance: disparate images of woman competing, vying for control.

But after the initial impression settles, a gentler range of colours emerges: soft blue-greens and hazy lilacs suggest a spiritual level which is the province of women – as yet, in these works, unexplored, but offering a potential harmony.

The works in Cacophony hover between the physical and spiritual. Yet a unity of concept emerges from the them, overreaching the mixing of media. This conceptual unity is spelt out for us in Apelt's catalogue: "a rites of passage cycle concerning liberation from internalized oppression. Its protagonist is the girl .. ."

The artist creates a narrative unity, a mythology which links the images one by one in a 'quest': a young woman's search for her own voice among so many others intent on shaping and controlling her.

Sharp Edge occurs mid-cycle. Oil on canvas, it was an astute choice for the catalogue cover for it epitomises the exhibition 's themes and concerns. In it, the girl, the rites-of-passage subject, has reached her most vulnerable point. She is naked rather than nude, stripped and unprotected. The woman behind her shoulder is clothed, protected by the status quo she has accepted and seeks to promulgate.

The girl's soft form is malleable, but she sits on a chair with rigid, upright lines. She turns away from the woman behind, who is strong in her decisiveness and in the support she receives from the rationality, the 'Culture' represented by the chair whose vertical lines she parallels.

To the lower right of the frame is a Bird of Paradise plant, its sharp edges and vivid, harsh colours threatening. The girl turns away from it too, and the viewer cannot but help connect the plant with the censorious woman behind: it is beautiful, but with an obvious, certain beauty that admits no question or subtlety.

The Bird of Paradise is organic, the 'Nature' with which 'Woman' is traditionally associated. Yet here, within the rational frame of the house, it is Nature which has internalised the strictures of Culture. To the girl's right is another kind of Nature. She is caught between the two

The 'other' is a wilderness. The girl is poised at the moment of possibility- she can choose to conform, to listen to the voices of convention and reason, or she can choose to follow her inner voice, which will lead her to the unexplored regions of 'true' womanhood, unmarked territory. She is afraid to stay, afraid to go.

In Apelt's narrative construction of the girl 's journey through experience she has not yet made the choice – perhaps cannot.

Apelt works within a modernist tradition. Her mixed-media works, with painted string jagging through pieces of wood, holding together the parts fragmented by a male rationalism {the pieces are geometric), might seem to be postmodern.

In fact, they disavow postmodernism which, one might say, is the triumph of the rational to the point of disintegration. The stitching together (traditionally a woman's craft) is an attempt to recover what has been lost, to seek wholeness – that is, the pursuit of modernism.

Similarly, the use of verbal text adjacent to the works is an attempt to 'stitch up' the experience depicted visually, to seek for, or impose a wholeness.

Whilst the attempt to create a verbal mythology for women's experience has intrinsic value in the context of Cacophony it is perhaps too determining of the images. Apelt's paintings are strong, and best left by their maker to stand alone.

Like the girl in Sharp edge, Apelt is poised on the brink of possibility – her work shows much promise. She is a dedicated artworker and the public can anticipate another similarly large and questioning exhibition in twelve months time.