by Dilpreet BhullarSep 17, 2022
The inevitability to escape the complexity of life and death has incessantly engrossed the minds of many. To give a meaningful expression to this inexorability has populated the art canon. The UK-based contemporary artist, Claire Morgan, with her latest exhibition A tentative strategy for a renewal, or, wanting to tell you everything and then changing my mind at Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris, presents a series of multimedia works to articulate the binaries of existence – oscillating between the states of permanency and fragility. The kernel of the exhibition is the act of catharsis: the power to reflect upon the pain and loss. Morgan extensively draws on the possibilities that the cycle of nature offers, yet which could be realised only if humankind is open to accept their vulnerability.
The past two years – dotted with the events of the pandemic, climate crises, civil unrest - have accentuated the necessity to reconstruct the bridge between humans, other species and the planet. In an interview with STIR, Morgan states, “My current body of work has arrived towards the end (hopefully) of the pandemic, but it comes from things that have been brewing for a very long time. As many people do, I have had some very difficult experiences, and I spent quite a lot of my life in denial, pretending things were fine, when they were anything but, because the pain was just too hard to face, and it was easier to just keep on distracting myself. My new works come from a realisation of how destructive that coping mechanism was, and reflect my attempts to actively embrace the pain and futility that have existed in my life, and to try and transform those things into something powerful out of which positive change can come.”
With the current exhibition, the artist has replaced taxidermic animals with their skins for the first time. The transition to the use of tanning reflects the need to discover the truth and exorcise her most deeply rooted fears. The practice is traced to prehistoric times when animal skins were essential for the survival of humans. During the period of colonisation, the task was elevated to the status of class and ownership, as the animal skins turned into the metaphor of the trophies of excess. The supple skins, stripped from their bony carcasses, look like strange, empty envelopes.
She addresses the past and archaic memory through a horn shape, used for the first time and revealed throughout the exhibition in different sizes and through different techniques. In the monumental installation, A tentative strategy for a renewal, or, wanting to tell you everything and then changing my mind, the larger‑than‑life horn, for the obvious reasons, does not belong to any existing animal. The horn appears to be weighed down by a mass of weightless seeds, its point pressing into the mass as if it were flesh.
Morgan explains the installation, “Takes the form of a huge tusk (around 7m long) and an organic form composed of thistle seeds (around 3.6 x 4.8m across) suspended on nylon threads. These two very different presences interact, and a sense of equilibrium is created by the organic form bulging, bodily, over the point of the tusk, seemingly keeping it balanced. The tusk is a new form in my work. It suggests something ancient. But the tusk is evidence of it, and it is still something dangerous, it could still do damage. And I think memory is a lot like that. It can bring such pain, but there are ways to still it. While it seems obvious that the violent presence in this work is the tusk, and that the seeds are frail and ephemeral, I am interested in how that could also be flipped on its head. When wildflower seeds germinate, their roots can be so powerful as to break open concrete. Transformation is possible. Growth is possible.”
For the installation Mourning for Real, Morgan sublimates the polyethylene through a colourful harmony. Yet it does not lose its parasitic function since it erupts from the skin of the bird. The union between animals and plastic refers to mass extinction and the climate crisis. “With works like Mourning for Real, and Rupture,” Morgan says, “I was playing with duality again. The fragments come from post-consumer plastic waste, and so they say something about consumption, but within the works, they seem almost organic, and have a superficial visual appeal.” Some of the organic elements, such as seeds, form elegant shapes around animals and hint at the passing of time. The artist thus composes an ode to nature through her interconnected works and various forms of materiality.
Furthermore, with the series of charcoal drawings Archaeology, Morgan introduces a human figure who interacts with a horn, straddling it, gripping onto it and exploring it in repeated attempts to master the unknown form, like a child learning to gather its bearings in a new world. If both entities coexisted, could they mutually support each other? To create this series, the artist introspects on her personal experience of loss, trauma and pain to give a glimpse of it to the viewers.
Morgan acutely mentions, “The work is not didactic. Things are rarely clear-cut.” The artist with the exhibition poses pertinent questions such as, “Where is the real violence in a situation? Where is it coming from? Does it need to be like that, or can that pain – which is, after all, energy – be channelled into something powerful and transformative?” to which, even if easy answers are unavailable, yet it leaves the viewers to ponder upon it with an affirmative and sensitive mind.
The exhibition A tentative strategy for a renewal, or, wanting to tell you everything and then changing my mind runs at Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris until December 23, 2021.