Andrew Paul Wood – 16 September, 2011
Biomorphism reflects a preference for ambiguous and organic shapes, drawing particularly on nature and anatomy to capture and express the vital life-force to liberate art from the constraints of technocratic civilisation. This does not strictly apply to Akehurst's objects. Their ambiguous forms suggest the power of the individual imagination to transcend the mundane world - or at least art history.
10 September - 24 September 2011
Before postmodernism made it extinct, the bohemian pretentions of the avant-garde’s death rattle (second or third hand from the School of Paris at that) left it wide open to parody by a bilious establishment. The trouble was that the people doing the parodying (one thinks of the British cartoonist Giles (Ronald “Carl” Giles, 1916-1995), or the hoax movement of the Disumbrationists established in 1924 - both usually mocking surrealism) were invariably themselves too artistic to bring themselves to do a bad job; the result often more accomplished than the object of their scorn.
Matt Akehurst’s Object (part of the larger show Feeding Time) at ABC gallery in Addington - one of the industrial suburbs jostling for position of Christchurch’s new arts precinct - is obviously a caricature of mid-twentieth century modernism, but nonetheless tinged with a copybook nostalgia and gentle bonhomie. You couldn’t call it reverent as such, but neither is it mean spirited or uncurious about its sources. It is ironic facsimile modernism, which is kinda appropriate when you consider that precious few New Zealand artists got to see actual European modernism when it was fresh out of the oven.
Akehurst’s correction fluid-white biomorphic blobs, in vitrines on plinths no less, press all of the traditional art gallery buttons, but ring just false enough to let you know it isn’t serious. Recall the blobby white shape-shifting Schmoo created by American cartoonist Al Capp (1909-1979), which first appeared in his classic comic strip Li’l Abner in 1948. Then take your Schmoo to an art museum and show it Arp, Hepworth, Sutherland, Noguchi, Moore, and maybe even some Bourgeois. Like pulp horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s amorphous Shuggoth, they seem to be in a constable state of mutability, paused in freeze-frame for our delectation:
It was a terrible, indescribable thing vaster than any subway train-a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down upon us, crushing the frantic penguins and slithering over the glistening floor that it and its kind had swept so evilly free of all litter. (H. P. Lovecraft, ‘At The Mountains of Madness’, 1931)
Objects. Sculptures, even. In an art gallery. Scandalous. And yet Akehurst’s objects function perfectly well as object in their own right, full of charm, endearingly cute, but fully grounded in sculptural sensibilities. The precedents are, perhaps, primarily to be found in painting: Philip Guston, Elizabeth Murray, and closer to home Mark Braunias and Rob McLeod- the forms are bulbous, abstract and cartoon-like, not without a certain eroticism and anxiety. The circular mouths could coo like babies or existentially shriek like Munch’s Scream (1893-1910), nor are they entirely different from the horror mask in that other famous Scream - the 1996 Hollywood movie. Other cinematic references that come to mind are the watery aliens in The Abyss (1989) and the tortured permutations of the quicksilver metamorph T-1000 “dying” in the molten metal at the end of Terminator II (1991) - both spawned by the then new morphing CGI technology. Akehurst’s sculptures, on the other hand, are reassuringly static, despite curving and bulging with a life of their own.
Biomorphism, taken at face value reflects a preference for ambiguous and organic shapes, drawing particularly on nature and anatomy to capture and express the vital life-force to liberate art from the constraints of technocratic civilisation. This, I think, does not strictly apply to Akehurst’s objects. Their ambiguous forms, however, like biomorphism, suggest the power of the individual imagination to transcend the mundane world - or at least art history.
Some artists and art historians have tried to make a case for modernism being simply one genre among many - a subset of classicism, romanticism’s final hurrah, or, paradoxically, both (anything is possible in postmodernism) - and that may be the sentiment expressed in this work. It’s impossible to say for sure. What is clear, however, is that the artist clearly enjoyed making these self-indulgent little amusements.
Andrew Paul Wood