michael j. morris


Recipes During Wartime
20 February, 2010, 2:31 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , ,

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending my twin brother Matt Morris‘ opening reception for his current installation/exhibition at U.Turn Art Space in Cincinnati. The piece/exhibit is entitled Recipes During Wartime. I would like my writing about the work to focus primarily on my experience of it and the meaning I made of it, but I would also like to offer some suggestion of the form/materials of the piece. The piece is comprised of a large rectangular veiled space, the floor of which has been covered with sifted flour. In this field of flour are various small objects. Below are a couple of images, and a list of materials provided by the artist:

Recipes During Wartime
Matt Morris

Tulle, flour, lights, perfume, broken bottle, wax, Diet Coke lid, foil tape, plastic, iridescent polypropylene, paper, embroidery floss, Christie’s auction magazine cover, dowels, foamcore, stickers, thread, holographic paper, hot glue, acrylic paint, glitter, crushed meringues, masking tape, an argument, drywall, aluminum leaf, ink, rosé wine label, primer, tissue boxes, wax paper, twine, ostrich feathers, dust, rainwater, Saint Kitten’s footprints, glass, Model Magic, hosiery, stickers, mica powder, chenille stem, wire, aluminum flashing, fiberglass tape, leftovers, antacids, found photograph in plastic frame, lust, glitter glue, invisible tape, a week of naps, Mylar, pushpins, trips to flea markets, spider webs, found objects, graphite, salt dough, lipstick, wood glue, figurine, rainbow sprinkles,  baking powder, corsage pins, ghosts, framed digital photograph.

2010″

Where to begin?

My initial sensation upon entering the gallery was the articulate pronouncement of duality or dichotomy. The colossal veil of tulle that forms the membrane of the installation immediately provoked a sense of interior and exterior, inclusion and exclusion, separateness and otherness. I felt initially as that which was other than that which was veiled. This was not without its immediate ramifications. By becoming acutely aware of the veiled quality imposed on all that was included in the installation, I became increasingly aware of my unveiled quality. It left me feeling exposed. But between this sense of the veiled and the unveiled was a sensation of the unveiling. The tulle veil was permeable. I was invited to see into, to investigate (from a distance) that which may have been completely withheld. The veil hung with this quality between withholding and revealing, neither fully one nor the other.

The veil and that which was veiled felt removed, specialized. Immediate associations were fashion runway, holy of holies, the train of a bride’s veil, the skirt of a ballerina. The objects inside of the veil felt special, secrets being revealed.

My second immediate sensation echoed several of my current research interests: the expansive nature of consciousness and its implications for embodiment and corporeality. The veil kept me physically outside of the installation, requiring me to project myself sensationally into the interior space. But it was not a sense of disembodying; instead, I felt an expansion of my corporeality, an extension of my perception (essentially embodied) into the interior spaces. By being presented with the permeable boundary of the veil, I became increasingly aware of the expansive and potentially permeable nature of what I perceive of an my own boundaries.

Perhaps it was in response to the intonation of “Wartime” in the title, but I was struck with a sense of witnessing the aftermath of some catastrophic event: I am thinking of the layers of dust that covered so much of New York City after the planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11, or the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the cloud that settled over the debris after the blast of destructive force. This implication of previous violence and the calm that came after was pervasive throughout my experience of the installation. Throughout moments of being seduced by elegant details, fragile forms and elusive sensations, I still felt the persistent implication of former violence beneath the surface of what I was being shown. It is a grace that comes by violence (to quote a poem by Anne Carson).

There is an intense fixity to the installation, a sense of a moment being held or preserved. Perhaps more than ever before, there is a sense that something has happened here (this is a persistent quality in Matthew’s work, at least for me: the implication of previous events), and the installation serves to fix the evidence of that event. Matthew’s work sometimes feels like crime-scenes to me. The veil in this instance serves as caution tape, the flour the chalk drawing around the edges of the body. The installation could be seen as evidence, evidence of former violence, the aftermath of war or warcrimes, or, perhaps even more poignantly, a life or lives lived. There is a personal nature to many of the objects to be found within the veiled space, offering a sense that this was a personal war, a war of persons.

Into this association with the aftermath of war and destruction came an important realization. There were signs of life throughout the installation: disturbance of the flour at the edges provoked by the movement of the viewers, but, even more importantly perhaps, disturbance of the flour on the interior of the installation. Brief texts emerged in the flour (whether these words were part of the evidence of that which had occurred or evidence of life responding after the fact was deliciously ambiguous), words like “MENU,” “YES,” and “STOP;” the footprints of a kitten could be found, echoing one of the few imagistic representations in the installation, a framed print of kitten footprints on a white wall, hung out of the direct line of the viewer at the far end of the installation. It seemed possible that this life evidenced may be paranormal in nature (ghosts are certainly listed as part of the materials), but the important realization was that the preserved/fixed moment of the event that has transpired has not gone undisturbed. This was a realization that mixed hopefulness and suspicion.

Perhaps it is more an accident of my own Butoh-affected aesthetic than anything essential in the work itself, but there was a leveling quality to the expansive field of flour. In Butoh, white powder is sometimes applied over the body of the performer as a way of neutralizing individual identity, so that the dancer takes on a kind of embodiment of universality. The field of flour had a democratizing affect on the scattered objects, neutralizing distinction in the space in between one thing and the next, and coating them in a sense of egalitarianism.

It would be impossible to stand before this veil without thoughts of the sacred. This is one of many apparent dichotomies intoned by the work, the distinction between the sacred and the mundane (or profane), and that which separates and creates this distinction. However, this dichotomy is subverted throughout the work. The nature of the objects themselves, the permeability of the tulle veil itself, the subtle places where the veil has been torn (these tears accentuated with touches of glitter, bringing special attention to the flaws of this dichotomy, the barrier we draw between the sacred and the otherwise). Just as the objects themselves are given subtle transcendence by the addition of iridescence, sparkle, silver leafing, etc., this transcendence is extended to the viewer and the mundane world beyond the veil in these elegant tears in what may at first seem a clear divide. One particular object of interest within the veil seems to perfectly epitomize this subversion of the sacred/mundane(profane) dichotomy: near one the the front corners of the installation is found a small silver figurine of a putto lying on its side, partially obscured by red wax that has dripped over it from a candle that has been burned down. I cannot help but think of the angelic figures fabled to sit atop the ark of the covenant, the ark kept within the veil of the holy of holies by the Israelites in the Old Testament. Here the tiny angle is found lying on its side, at a distal corner of the veiled space, submerged in a fairly mundane evidence of the passage of time, a candle having burned down. Of course this candle could have been sacred; it may have been an implement in ritual or witchcraft or seance. But situated as it is within the context of the other objects to be found within the veil, it seems far more likely that the story of the candle and the reclining angelic figure it consumes is mundane in origin and nature. There do seem to be common denominators amongst the objects: all of the objects situated about the field of flour seem either compromised or compromising, bits and pieces, unfinished forms, found objects, remnants of previous events. Descriptions that come to mind are dismantled (intended to connote both deconstruction and unveiling), disregarded, disheveled, distressed, mementos and memories, all somehow pervasively confectionate. Again, above and beneath what seem to be the charged content of the debris of catastrophe lies neutrality: from beneath each object, rooted in its nature, are these common qualities listed above; from above, as if to ensure the perception of neutrality, there is the field of flour. The nature of the installation tastes like a layered pastry, charged specificity and ambiguity sandwiched between layers of neutrality.

There are aesthetic rewards to be discovered throughout the installation. There was the overwhelming scent of warm sugar permeating the gallery space (the edible accoutrement for the opening reception were a variety of home-made cotton candy, in flavors conceived of and concocted by the artist. Flavors of revelatory interest to me were Brown Sugar, Wasabi and White Pepper, Balsamic, Cinnamon and Cardamom, and Smoke. I could write a whole additional piece on the cotton candy and its relationship to the work, but I may have to leave that exhaustive work to others). Bursts of iridescence rewards the viewer who moves slowly and carefully, examining each object. Sparkle is the buoyant punctuation within this predominantly flat and neutralizing field of flour: iridescent plastic, bits of silver foil, specks of glitter, a small sheet of holographic paper, holographic tape lining the upper edge of white foam core, the gleam of glass and tape and plastic. These glints of divinity amidst the compromised neutrality of the objects themselves is yet another aesthetic reinforcement of the sense of permeability and mutability between the sacred and mundane(profane). Other aesthetic rewards (all to be found mostly through careful examination) are loose threads in the veil and small bits of hair caught up in the tulle. The movement of the viewers around the edges of the veil leave tiny traces (“drawings”?) in the edges of the flour, reinforcing the record of continuing presence in what seems initially and apparently a “fixed” situation evidencing a previous event. There is an eroticism to the presentation of many of the objects: by having the full form or nature of the object withheld or partially obscured, I am left with longing for that which is out of reach. A pink slip of paper featuring scribbled lines, some scratched through, far too far out of visual range to be legible; an image if seemingly Baroque figures partially covered in the field of flour; a framed photograph hung just out of my sightline, so that I cannot stand squarely before it. I was rewarded in recognizing the difference between the wet footprints of the spectators emerging into the gallery out of the snow, the motion of the viewer and the apparent immobility of the installation.

Herein seems to be one of Matthew’s many gifts, an ability to imply or direct attention to everything via his constructions. Everything becomes implicated either by inclusion or contrast. His enchantment is one of expanding awareness, elevating attention, and in doing so neutralizing what might otherwise be a varied landscape of importance and unimportance. In viewing this work, and lingering in hours, days, and scattered moments after viewing the work, everything takes on importance. Everything becomes sacred because of the attention I bring to it. I read a couple of weeks ago in May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude that “Absolute attention is prayer.” This seems relevant to the lingering enchantment of Matthew’s work. By entreating the expansion and intensification of my attention, all becomes sacred, awareness becomes reverence, and that which is becomes deified.

I could likely write far more about the work, but as I look back over what I have written, I feel that I have at least sketched in the major structure of my experience of the work.

Events continue for the show. Tonight there is an artist and poetry reading accompanying the release of a monograph in conjunction with the show. Info for this event can be found here. It starts at 7:00pm at U.Turn.

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