Dorothy Cross at Frith Street

I feel that I struggle as an artist surrounded by such natural beauty because I could never compete with it.

Dorothy Cross

Dorothy Cross’ latest exhibition, at Frith Street Gallery’s Golden Square space, is one which engages with the themes which have dominated her impressive oeuvre. Cross is renowned for her interrogation of our human relationship with the natural world. In an interview with the Irish Times, she explained that her home – on the seaward edge of Killary Harbour in Ireland, a setting bursting with the picturesque – is as much a hindrance as an inspiration, “I feel that I struggle as an artist surrounded by such natural beauty because I could never compete with it.”

Shark big

Dorothy Cross, 'Relic', 2010

This strain, however, has proved a fruitful one. From the dialectic of natural/manmade spring Cross’ most powerful pieces. 'Bond' – image below – stages the the tussle literally, in this case between shark and submarine. As well as invoking the combative by sculpting a weapon and a predator, their positioning together encourages the viewer to see the similarities between the two entities as much as their differences. And here, we return to the trouble of human beings trying to emulate the natural world; for as much as the shape and texture of the submarine might mimic the animal’s, the shark has emerged ‘on top’.

Bond

Dorothy Cross, 'Bond', 2015

You can’t see it, but trust me, it’s there. Just as the shark is there, unseen, below the water line.

Dorothy Cross

The exhibition’s title piece is as visually arresting as it is conceptually interesting. 'Eye of Shark' – touching again on human failings and frailty – hinges on questions of faith. This theme is evoked by the ‘congregation’ of baths, arranged in neat lines, in front of what comes to stand for the eye of God. 'Eye of Shark' looks, at first glance, like a stained glass window. On closer inspection, it more closely resembles a saint’s relic. Encased in gold, behind the glass, is a shark’s eye. “You can’t see it, but trust me, it’s there. Just as the shark is there, unseen, below the water line.” Trust me, says Cross. Standing in at the front of the ‘congregation’ is the only way to examine this piece: it is built into the wall, and so the viewer is forced into the same position of subjugation as any member of a congregation. No amount of looking, though, will let you see the eye. Just as in the wild, the predator “beneath the water line” has the advantage, so the shark here is gifted all the power of a deity. Cross reminds us that fear (of God, of sharks) in humans has one shared source – annihilation.

Relic

Dorothy Cross, 'Eye of Shark', 2014

The nine bathtubs are empty of water and full of gold dust. Gold forms the imagined scum lines round each rim but also marks the line between air and water.

The nine bathtubs are empty of water and full of gold dust. Gold forms the imagined scum lines round each rim, marking the line between air and water. The gilding denotes the boundary between our world and that of the shark. Placing this idea in a familiar space, in which we are submerged and vulnerable, relaxed, stages a quiet collision between the two opposing ideas with which Cross has been dancing behind the scenes. Just as the 'Eye of Shark' sees all, the threat of sharks is everywhere.

White bath tub