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This Then. Essays 2010
Penelope Curtis, Strongholds cat. Tate Gallery, Liverpool 1991
Various writing /reviews/press cutting 80s/90s/00s
Robert Clark, The Guardian
August 28th 2010
'Derry artist Locky Morris deals in what he calls the "daily epiphanies" of chewed pencils, cups of tea, lager bottles and antacid tablets. This exhibition celebrates three decades of such thematically unlikely and highly personal artistic projects. A photograph records the aesthetic cross-associations between the family dog lying on its back on the lawn and an upturned white plastic garden chair. A glass vitrine, lit by a single fluorescent light, contains a fragment of bedroom carpet where the cardboard collar support from the artist's daughter's school uniform lies. This is an art of absurdist banalities that, through careful staging and cumulative thematic hypnotism becomes visual poetry. You can imagine Samuel Beckett chuckling wryly away in the background: "I shall state silences more competently than ever a better man spangled the butterflies of vertigo." It's art that's as touching as it is deceptively simple-minded.'
FROM DAY ONE
7 April - 15 May 2010
Art (consciously written with a capital 'A') has been the concern of philosophers from the beginning, from which art (with a small 'a') has historically come out rather badly. In The Republic, Plato determined art as mere imitation, a shadow. For Hegel too, art was essentially locked into notions of history; in 1828 he wrote that art "...in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the past." The historical point (1) that witness the equalling-up of this equation (2) may therefore be read as a major philosophical u-turn, which in turn, ushered in the age of post-historicist thought. At some juncture in the 1970s, the philosopher and art critic Arthur C. Danto was standing on a street corner in Pittsburgh when he claims to have had an epiphany relating to an exhibition that he had seen, some years earlier, Andy Warhol at the Stable Gallery, New York, 1964. The show contained one work consisting of a number of identical pieces of artwork that, for all intents and purposes were consciously made to look exactly like "mere real things", Brillo boxes. It evidently took some years for Warhol's intent to strike home, but when it did, it hit Danto like an out-of-control car careering across the Pittsburgh intersection. If art could be deliberately made to look like anything, then anything could look like art, and by extension; art could be anything and anything could be art.
This post-Duchampian revelation effectively meant that all the mainstream histories of 'Art', those that had contributed to notions of the developmental path of artistic excellence; in terms of mimetics, craft, tradition, connoisseurship etc, were rendered meaningless in the now. All that remained essential to the on-goingness of art was the philosophical intent of artists and their own personal histories - every artist and artwork effectively started afresh, from day one, making Duchamp's urinal as essential to the onging not-history of art as Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Not only was 'Art' entirely liberated from the need to look like things, being a philosophical 'thing in itself', art only needed to look like itself, which in turn, could be anything at all. And more, it meant that future (documentary) histories of art/artists would have to be considered in the Duchampian lineage of greater democracy and socially available anti-elitism, in preference to the prevalent Greenbergian line of artistic purity being essentially dependant upon the remove of art from the everyday.
Locky Morris (born Derry, Northern Ireland) is a perfect temporal inheritor of the idea of uninheritability, a quintessentially post-historical artist. His work is in and of the everyday, out of history yet immersed in it. His densely intelligent art looks just like life, and most particularly his life. Therefore it simultaneously looks like everything around us, and absolutely nothing else at all. By Danto's determination, his art is genuinely (in the only true sense of the word), unique and post-historical, outside any time other than its own. With evident delight and humour Morris magnifies seemingly insignificant details of everyday life, piles of washing, cups of tea, chewed pencils - daily epiphanies, as he describes them - until they acquire the complexites and emotional profundity of an operatic aria. We laugh and cry at them and with them in equal measure. When the artist's intention reveals itself to the viewer - and it often tends to do so in a slow and deliberate manner - these apparently ordinary things transmute into iconic and irreplaceable things, systematically unveiling Morris' extraordinary capacities for observation and perceptual manipulation. In the title-work of the show; From Day One, (2009) Morris installs a square section of his bedroom carpet into a glass vitrine, lit with a single, analytical fluorescent tube, onto which a tiny cardboard collar-support, from his daughter's first day of school shirt, had casually been tossed. The viewer, touched by a moment of such profound love, is also left with the irresistible and hilarious visualisation of a family bedroom missing a perfect square metre of flooring. Similarly, in Acid Free, (2008-9) hundreds of tiny plastic packets of Morris' habitually taken anti-acid medication are assembled with the formal rigour, elegance and new-found dignity of a Dan Flavin installation. In an unassuming photographic end-print pinned to the wall, Morris notes the incredible physical resemblance of a family pet, lying prone with its legs in air, to an upturned outdoor plastic chair. As with most things 'Morris', it's not just the obvious that matters, it's in the detail, the tonal subtleties... it's also confounding that the artist was present, camera in hand, at the only possible moment of perfect equivalence, thought-provoking in itself. The equivalence of dog = chair is perfectly formed by the tonal gradation towards the up-ended 'underarms' of both, and most particularly the resemblance of the chair's curvature and drainage point to the dog's tummy and poochey penis. Morris revels in the simultaneous inflation and deflation of his visual, sculptural and conceptual metaphors, finely tuning bathos and pathos into a mechanism that simultaneously loves and laughs at itself loving.
The idea of 'post-history' is even relevant to this section of a press release, wherein one usually talks about past, present and future career achievements; as in his own past Morris has downplayed the importance of such past things, consciously leaving biographical pages blank in Tate and Hayward gallery catalogues during the 1980s - see, we still managed to squeeze it in by inference if nothing else. Now, as then, he seems happy to start afresh, again, from day one.
(1) Or at least the history of philosophy
(2) i.e. the ending of the idea that saw the inherent necessity of the placement of 'new art' in the canonical lineage of historicisable pastness as a pejorative descriptor for making art successful, and therefore Art.
© mother's tankstation
ARTFORUM DECEMBER 2010
The Troubles not only shaped the political landscape in Northern Ireland in the last third of the twentieth century but also influenced local artistic practice there, leaving a mark on local life and imposing on art an ethical imperative to respond. This retrospective of Locky Morris's work, "This Then" (whose second chapter will take place at the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland, next summer), showed the Derry-based artist to have been a prolific commentator on the period, exploring the spirit of the time in diverse works. It also revealed that in the past decade Morris has created art of a more introspective nature, focusing on ordinary matters with an intimist perspective, in keeping with the lived experience of a postconflict society.
An Bhearna Bhaoil - Gap of Danger, 1988, set the tone for the first part of the exhibition, which focused on emblematic works from the 1980s that sympathetically address the popular resistance led by the Nationalists. The work features seven burned garbage can lids with a stripe of tar across them. The title is a phrase from the Irish national anthem, where it evokes the Battle of New Ross, which occurred during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and as such symbolizes Republican opposition to British rule. The work translates this historical feeling in light of recurrent events such as riots - in which the burning of items of everyday use is a common occurrence - and the function that the garbage can lids had for the Catholic inhabitants of Derry, who banged them on the ground to warn of the arrival of police and wielded them like shields. Dawn Raid, 1988, consists of models of armed Land Rover Tangi vehicles - infamously used by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the Northern Irish police) - that surround the model of a house. Forming a circle and painted in yellow and red, colors that recall flames, these elements evoke both a target and an explosion. Town, Country and People, 1985-86, is made of three cones standing on the floor, on which the three entities of the title are shown as blue and black silhouettes, so somber that they suggest an apocalyptic setting. A small toy helicopter rests atop each of these structures; the cones thus represent the beams of light emitted by such craft in their surveillance actions.
After a phase in the mid-'90s devoted more to music than to art, Morris carried out various works in the public arena. Less known, his studio production expanded throughout the 2000s, and was revealed in this exhibition as a coherent investigation of chance in everyday life. He continues to use poor materials, appropriating commonplace objects and manipulating conventional iconographies. For example, for Itch, 1 999, he covered the scrapings from a scratch-off lottery card with a loupe; for From Day One, 2008, he placed on a carpet a wrinkled shirt-collar insert that his daughter had discarded on her first day of school and that he had kept for four years; for Bathroom Suite, 2010, he recorded the sounds of his morning hygiene, which became a sound track emitted from boxes made from shelves combined with bathroom air vents to look like speakers. By mixing multiple personal references, these works constitute a kind of epiphany of one man's current state of affairs.
Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.
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