Magazine article Art Monthly

Heather & Ivan Morison Ben Rivers, David Thorpe

Magazine article Art Monthly

Heather & Ivan Morison Ben Rivers, David Thorpe

Article excerpt

The Hepworth Wakefield 11 February to 10 June

I looked up 'dystopia', and it didn't quite mean what I'd thought it did. Conjoining the ancient Greek for 'hard' and 'place', the term refers not to a failed utopia but specifically to a reversed one, run on repressive lines--the Orwellian opposite of free. So, despite the D-word featuring in the publicity materials, maybe we need another word for what purportedly connects these three discrete shows which punctuate a half-dozen rooms devoted to the fluent, hopeful modernism of Barbara Hepworth and her contemporaries; a word for something formerly optimistic that has gone off the tracks, landed somewhere shady and damp, and begun to mutate.

David Thorpe's display of sculptures and decorative watercolours has clear roots in the Arts and Crafts ideal of the handmade, artisanal object, though it is actually a fusion of 19th-century anti-industrial decor and modernist geometrics. Two freestanding, steel-framed screens are each covered with brown and white tiles on one side; the backs, meanwhile, are of sleek white perspex, the whole thing resembling a minimalist's hearth. A pair of oversized white cubes on stool-like supports, embossed with floral designs in hand-cut pieces of leather, both feature a small rectangular aperture: peek in and you see a blinding white light, as if the explicitly crafted object harboured some mystical potential. Thorpe's art seemingly posits a fictional community of contemporary makers who haven't wholly rejected modernity, and who, while accepting perhaps that it is too late in the day, want, like John Ruskin and William Morris before them, to restore some pride in making. Such a vision resonates with recent self-empowerment manifestos like Richard Sennett's The Craftsman, 2008, and there is a melancholy feel to this imaginary communitarianism, for it tangles together selfdeterminism with nostalgia; in these works, the light that never goes out may be the human longing for some Elysium that never really existed. On the other hand, it appears that Thorpe worked with local artisans to make the work so that its very making is helping to keep craft traditions alive.

Heather & Ivan Morison's room functions primarily as a piece of pregnant scenography, since it is the setting for an intermittently staged puppet show (one that I didn't get to see, mea culpa). What remains has allusive verve enough, though. It draws on Anna Kavan's 1967 feminist sci-fi novel Ice, in which the eponymous substance inexorably and metaphorically covers the planet while a study in male brutality and female victimhood plays out. Parts of the Morisons' display, which involves a set of benches supporting symbolic objects--a huge helium-filled balloon, a central pile of black bones, some counterfeit skulls and cracked jugs, and several abstract wallworks--literalise this. A wall text, next to a display of blackish-red roses cast in wax, quotes from the book: 'My anus is swollen, large and bruised. It reminds me of a rose, but a dark rose that is almost black ...' Kavan's sadistic character 'The Warden', meanwhile, is visualised as a wallcovering abstraction, a split rectangle made from 'carbonised bones, chimney soot and cliff chalk'.

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To an extent the Morisons' show is a study in metaphor, substitution, inference: most things are not what they appear ('eggs' made from chalk, for example) and the storyline, as abstracted here, glimmers darkly--as much as it speaks of ruin and unhappiness, it also reflects the human potential to invent, to falsify productively. …

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