Floria Tosca – Bearing Witness

Floria Tosca, Pan, Pencil, gouche and ink on paper, 105cmX150cm. Courtesy the artist and Flinders Street Gallery, Sydney

The term ‘animal kingdom’ implies the largest, grandest and most intelligent animals standing regally at the top of the pile, but Floria Tosca invites us to reimagine the order of things. While humans tend to identify with the behaviour our closest primate relatives, Tosca wonders whether we might find more parallels with the ‘hive mind’ of insects and other creatures. Our desire to connect even when not in physical proximity saw us invent networks and modes of communication that mimic those of insects, birds and flying mammals. Now, warned against physical connection for the time being, we continue to be linked by invisible impulses.

That patriarchal phrase ‘animal kingdom’ also implies the crown worn by the monarch. Across the world’s cultures, head adornments are employed to signify power. We might not know the laws of a locality but we can identify who’s in charge by what’s on their head. While humans consider ourselves the righteous rulers of planet Earth, Tosca observes that we are currently being well and truly lorded over by a microscopic agent that also favours the form of a crown: coronavirus.

This menacing form has found its way into Tosca’s new works, insinuated into the corners of compositions amongst the flora, and sprouting mushroom-like from the eyes of skulls. It’s not only microbes that get scaled up: Tosca zooms in on birds, bats and insects, a reminder of where these creatures really belong in the schema of things. Bats in particular, but also ladybirds, are here to remind us of how we have tipped the scales of ecological balance: bats being a host for coronavirus, while ladybirds are symbolic of the collateral damage suffered by creatures through bushfires.

Tosca employs in her practice a visual taxonomy comprised not only of images of birds, insects and other creatures, but also of studies made of the outline form of plants. These elements become the basis for visual arrangements characterised by intuitively balanced form and colour, courting abstraction yet unmistakeable in their organic origins. In works such as Pan the composition respects the boundaries of the paper support, embracing symmetry, while in Remember, the goat hide Tosca has used to work on cuts its own silhouette, its form containing the echoes of a life. Living and dead, joyous yet dark, the subjects in Bearing Witness ponder the singular condition that is both degeneration and regeneration.

Chloé Wolifson, August 2020

Floria Tosca’s exhibition Bearing Witness took place at Flinders Street Gallery, Sydney from 15 August – 5 September 2020. The exhibition text above was published to accompany the exhibition.