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Rosa Moschata was Mishka Borowski's recent installation in Pendulum gallery's newly extended space. Here, the artist fused painting with installation, coating the gallery walls and windows with layered veils of coloured agar jelly. The red agar was lightly scented with rosewater. Up close, the painted walls seemed like simple, non-figurative, dripped surfaces. Yet, standing back, the viewer became aware that feint veins of rose petals had been rubbed into the surface. Each wall acted as a painting in itself, while the room in its entirety created an atmosphere of warmth.
Here Borowski dealt with a decorative aesthetic, and the cultural history of flower painting. Such notions carry with them an undeniable association with the "feminine". The veins of the painted petals combined with the pinkness of the room seemed to relate to the womb. One could perceive an essentialist concern with femininity. However, these references appeared to be incidental. Rather, Borowski drew on the opulence of the culturally loaded symbolism of the rose. Considerations of beauty were central to the work, not merely regarding its aesthetic presentation, but in its concern with the decay of beauty. Decay has featured heavily in Borowski's previous work. There has been a persistent interest in organic materials which undergo a transmutation during the course of an exhibition.
However, these past works have been concerned with metamorphosis, with change within life cycles. In her previous work decay has lead to regeneration. Her installation for Pendulum's inaugural exhibition consisted of eggs in an incubator, which hatched during the month of the exhibition. Rosa Moschata was far more pessimistic. The bloom was taken to expiration. The change registered this time was that of loss.
The catalogue which accompanied the work consists of a single quote from Agnes Martin. The quote likewise draws on the rose as a metaphor of beauty, and speaks of its death and decay as an analogy for the loss of something dear. Borowski's materials represented this analogy. In its more common use, Agar jelly is used for cultivating bacteria. As it does so, it rots, slowly decomposing. Blended with red pigment and rosewater, the jelly was impregnated with the very substance it depicted in the painting. As the work decayed, its beauty died. Its scent faded, and its seductive surface wrinkled.
Although it was the tragedy of loss that was dealt with, the work offered a degree of hope. The changing organic materials, while being quite appropriate in the context of the artist's practice, in this instance disclosed a catharsis. The work had a shamanistic Beuysian quality, and could be seen as a metaphor for healing. The drying agar flaked into configurations which themselves resembled the petals of a rose, until it formed a scab. The scab fell from the wall, which was left clean and white.
Borowski allowed the cultural and historical associations of her subject matter to resonate in a way that did not entirely close meaning with literal references. The biggest clue one was offered to this work was the obscure title - Rosa Moschata - species of rose which became extinct over a hundred years ago. Like the work itself, it offers a poetic metaphor for irreplaceable loss.