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Mark Purdom at Ramp

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These mud constructions were in fact something far more prosaic; it was almost a disappointment. They were in fact the jumps in an elaborate BMX track. My whole dissertation on the evils of laissez faire and free enterprise was rapidly going down the tube. Or was it? Maybe something could be salvaged.

Hamilton

 

Mark Purdom
Under

 

27 March - 12 April 2013

First impressions: sometimes right, sometimes wrong; other times somewhere in between.

The images in this series of photographs, called Under, by Mark Purdom - lecturer in photography at the School of Media Arts, Wintec - first struck me as crude dwelling places carved out of the earth, perhaps mud shacks built by people on the margins of society, pushed out to the boundaries of a harsh forest location. Despite looking slightly surreal, these squat, roof-like structures made of mud with bits of blankets and tarp slung across them, gave the distinct impression of occupancy. These were the mud people who the system of capitalism couldn’t accommodate. Either that or they were the product of giant moles.

Wrong on both counts. Yet it was a nice feeling to be wrong if only for the frisson one gets from the disparity between what one initially thought and what was the case. I wasn’t even close. I always look first and read after.

These mud constructions were in fact something far more prosaic; it was almost a disappointment. They were in fact the jumps in an elaborate BMX track. My whole dissertation on the evils of laissez faire and free enterprise was rapidly going down the tube. Or was it? Maybe something could be salvaged.

It always strikes me as somewhat incongruent the way sport operates today in the West. All these well fed, well-heeled cyclists (read any sport that especially involves elements of risk and danger) professionally involved in something that smacks of an anachronism. Back in the day, these same people would be expending their energy chasing bears or small rodents across the forest floor in order to maintain their survival. Now survival is less of an issue, some of us still find ourselves compelled to engage in an ersatz chase with pretend drama involving contrived obstacles. It’s all too silly.

Here are photographs of a race track, wintering over with cover sheets, waiting for spring when everyone will stream out of the city, bodies covered in lycra and velcro, putting life and limb at risk in a pointless exercise.

What Purdom captures here is a confrontation between man/woman and nature that replicates something like visiting a theme park in order to see a plastic Mt Rushmore. Here nature - the trees, the leaves, the snow and undergrowth - has been co-opted into a twenty first century farce. We have moved on from the mud people to become the muddled people, willing to turn nature into an amusement, a diversion, a game, so alienated have we become from our roots.

And yet, looked at from another angle, forgetting the polemics, these mounds of mud, cloaked as they are in red and green shawls, in a winter setting away from ‘civilization’, seem to possess something of a mythic status. They give off a feeling that perhaps some ritual of Earth and the gods is going on here, human artefacts constructed long ago that partake of a certain dignity, linked to mystery associated with ancient burial mounds found in remote parts. That they are not, finds us cleverly caught in that gap, that “space between” so beloved of the postmodern sensibility.

Peter Dornauf

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