Paula Turmina : Thriving Through (Chaos)

17 November - 20 December 2023 London

Private View: Thursday 16th of November, 6:30 - 8:30 pm

London (Wandsworth)

Ant-like figures with elongated eyes and limbs appear within a barren, burnt red landscape – their bodies entwined with one another, melting into their surroundings. These are what the Brazilian artist Paula Turmina calls her ‘sun worshippers’, hybrid beings who live in rhythm with the cycle of the sun. Thriving Through (Chaos), Turmina’s first solo exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London presents a new body of work in which the artist imagines both a future environment that has adapted to rising temperatures, and more fluid and harmonious ways of living with the earth.
Turmina’s paintings are defined by a restrained colour palette that was inspired by her research into the history of Brazil and the mass extraction of brazilwood during its colonisation by Portugal. Brazilwood is the country’s national tree, which produces a natural orange-red dye. Once endemic to Brazil’s forests, it is now endangered. In Turmina’s work, the various shades of red, orange, and yellow reference this history while also anticipating a future that is not just hotter but may require adaptation to radically new terrains.
The colours infiltrate not just the landscape, but also the characters’ skin, creating an impression of both warmth and claustrophobia. In Pollinating/sprouting/decaying, the largest of the works on display, which depicts the rising and setting of the sun, we encounter three characters collapsed into the earth – one appears to be literally melting in the heat, their long limbs snaking around two pools of stagnant water, while another, striking for their pregnant belly, is in the process of being melded into the trunk of a tree and the third is sprouting green shoots from their nipples and belly button. To the left of canvas, in the darker light of the moon, another three figures are caught in a trance-like state or some kind of ritualistic practice, which is taking place just beyond the frame of the image. It’s a curious scene that sits somewhere between the uncanny realm of fairy-tale and a feverish dystopian dream.
For Turmina, her work is as much about hope as it is a forecast of doom. Hope that is found not just in the rejuvenation of the environment – in the fragile, yellowing stems that grow up through the cracks of the dried earth – but in the connections between her characters and their reverence for nature. Unlike much of the human race, her figures are adaptable to and embracing of the world that they live in. This is represented both through their physical fluidity – they are genderless, with soft, bendable limbs that mimic the shapes of the landscape (in some of the paintings an arm has even come detached and lies curled like a snake on a bed of brown grass) – and their actions. In All the things she said, two figures appear with their arms curved around a flaming tree, engaged in what could be some kind of mating ritual or an act of collective healing, while in Prayers to many circles, another two figures are cradling the glowing orb of the sun.
‘I was interested in imagining what it would take for something to thrive in a barren space and to create harmony in chaos,’ says Turmina, ‘because chaos is a natural part of life.’ In her paintings, a state of harmony and ‘thriving’ is achieved through powerful interconnection – between the self and the other, the body and the landscape, the earth, and the celestial realms.