Wild at Heart
It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth . . . There is grandeur in this view of life … from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.
- Charles Darwin The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex 1871
When Charles Darwin published his findings on evolutionary sciences, many newspapers delighted in publishing caricatures of him as an ape-man. That man was related to apes was a ludicrous idea for the time but also a monstrous one. How disgusting to think that civilized man was no better than an ape! The idea that we were related to this base creature – this hairy beast! this animal! – was preposterous. And yet Charles Darwin continued to publish his findings, often using the most beautiful language, such as the section quoted above. ‘Well’, he might have thought. ‘they are, scientifically speaking, not incorrect. I am indeed an ape-man.’
Tai Snaith’s exhibition Woman versus Wild offers a meditation on our inter-relationship with nature. For, despite all the signs of culture that we festoon about ourselves, we are still wild creatures and the images in Woman versus Wild emit a charming but insistent call of the wild – especially to women. ‘Break away’ they say, ‘remember to run wild and free’. The exhibition presents a broad taxonomy of the female of the species: A lovely ape lady enjoys a smoko. A wife turns into a bear. A nice pony-lady leaps prettily across a book about painting. A protester – ‘Miss Resist’ – hacks into a melon with a knife while unashamedly naked. A 22-year old gets frickin cranky about ‘feminist floral motifs’.
Something I greatly admire in Tai Snaith’s artwork is its quality of gentleness. In her universe things are allowed to be as they are, or perhaps how they want to be . Snaith has an expansive vision of the world. A willingness to think in other ways is particularly pertinent here because the idea of ‘wildness’ has been co-opted to stand in for all sorts of clichéd and counterfeit behaviour. Especially when it pertains to women. We could all reel off the hackneyed signifiers perennially trotted out to perform western ideas of female wildness – it’s not that raunch can’t be wild, it’s just that so often it isn’t. The women in Woman versus Wild are wild and free in their own sweet ways, some of which are extroverted and some of which are deeply introverted, such as a sweet girl entirely covered up by her long tresses (and presumably her pants, which she has apparently refused to take off). These women are wild where it counts – they are wild at heart.
The world is wondrously strange in Tai Snaith’s universe – just as it is in ours. I admire the breadth of subject matter in Woman versus Wild as well as the diversity of artforms. The world is infinitely variable, and this assortment of approaches performs that idea. In Tai Snaith’s art practice ‘endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved’. And, to borrow once again from Charles Darwin, there is, indeed, ‘grandeur in this view of life’.