Clusters of machines that probe our relationship with mechanical objects when they break down.
Friday 16 June 6-9pm
Saturday 17 June to Saturday 27 August 2017
Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm
Alex Pearl is interested in the way we relate to machines, particularly in the way we relate to them when they break down. This area of research feels increasingly relevant as our interaction with machines increases on a daily basis.
We rely on machines for many of our daily tasks – from drying hair to toasting bread, moving us around to documenting thoughts, capturing images to sharing almost everything, we probably engage more with machines than we do with other human-beings. We are so continuously contiguous with our phones that we are virtually cyborgs, and with the development of technological implants, that science fiction is very close to becoming a reality.
Our exchanges with machines are usually off-hand and casual – if we are familiar with them we use them almost without thinking. But what happens when machines break down? How does our relationship with them alter? This question is at the crux of Alex’s work, and the machines he makes often do break down as he builds in a tendency to failure, whether through bad workmanship (deliberate or otherwise) or by constructing something that only just works, thereby increasing the likelihood of it not working.
When a machine breaks down we pay a lot more attention to it – feelings of frustration or anger are sometimes vented on it, and we often act as if the machine is sentient and has chosen to break down in some kind of malicious attempt to stop us doing from what we were trying to do. This anthropomorphism of machines can induce us to shout or swear at them, call them names, or perhaps (in the famous scene in Fawlty Towers where Basil’s car breaks down) thrash them with a branch.
The humorous aspect of this behavior has not gone unnoticed by Alex, and he exploits the ridiculousness of our relationship with, and attitude towards these amalgemations of dumb materials to produce works that highlight some of these emotions and reactions. He produces works that build towards collapse, and teeter on the edge of failure, drawing us in with the thrill of anticipation as we wait for something momentous to occur, until we begin to understand that maybe nothing will take place, and walk away bemused but maybe also amused.
The machines and videos displayed in Love Machines have largely been conceived and constructed in FACTLab, an open facility developed by FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool) to allow artists and technologists to explore their technoerotic fascinations. Visitors to the exhibition are invited to approach the machines consciously and cautiously, and consider their relationship to them. The machines will also develop their own relationship with the space they inhabit and any body that approaches them. As they approach breakdown they will be repaired, reconfigured and replaced. This act will be a performative element of the exhibition but not quite a performance.
Alex says about his work: “Even in 1932, mechanologists like Jacques Lafitte were seeking to break down the perceived barrier between what was considered human and what was considered machine. Of course, robots had already been invented and were often (like Fritz Lang’s Maria in Metropolis) running amok, tearing down the human world. Now, while we continue to be anxious about the machine, our intimacies with metal and silicon have never been greater. We love (and hate) machines. The relationships explored in Love Machines are a little less violent than much Science Fiction but no less intimate. Hopefully in this exhibition there is a level of (self)love in the material exchanges experienced by the viewer, the artist and the machines.”
About the artist
Alex Pearl’s practice encompasses video, sculpture, photography, and occasionally even performance. It plays with ideas of chance, quotidian struggles, loss of control and failure. Currently he is working on a practice led PhD in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University and FACT, for which he is making a number of machines and films investigating the relationship between mechanical breakdown and anthropomorphism. His title is Breakdown: Mechanical Dysfunction and Anthropomorphism.
Pearl’s work displays a boyish fascination with the structures and images of Science Fiction. His machines often resemble the productions of a crackpot hobbyist, an ersatz Rotwang without the funding or genius. He has exhibited nationally and internationally in venues such as: The Sydney Opera House, Tate Britain, the Whitstable Biennale and a small hut in Siberia. He has also been unsuccessful in more than one grant application. These have included Arts Council funding to slaughter rival artists, a British Antarctic Survey application not to go to the Antarctic and planning permission to build a rocket launch pad in a gallery in Bristol.
Found in East Anglia
Abstract artworks made in Manningtree between 2015 and 2016 using materials reclaimed from East Anglia.
Friday 4 August 6-9pm
Saturday 5 August to Saturday 30 September 2017
Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm
Benjamin Brown has a free and easy approach to the making of his work. He explores the world with a playful spirit and an open mind, much as a child might.
As he travels around East Anglia he picks up materials that people have discarded in skips or left lying by the side of the road – boards, lengths of timber, paint – as well as gathering elements from nature like mud, grass or moss. These resources then become the materials that Benjamin uses to make his paintings,
Most of us would see these items as detritus – unwanted stuff that clutters up the space around us – and we would tend to ignore it. But this stuff comes directly from the people who live here – their leftover tins of paint, unwanted boards or timber from a building project, an old framed poster that has fallen out of favour and been thrown outside to rot – they all speak of the society that produces them, moves them around, then discards them to pass out of sight and mind.
By appropriating these objects and making paintings from them, Benjamin is making work that speaks of a hidden landscape – not the picturesque and bucolic ones that Constable and Gainsborough favoured, rather the ignored, unseen and forgotten that many of us contribute to but not many consider. He absorbs the essence of the place he lives in then reconfigures it to create his abstract works.
The paintings that are produced from these sources are free and easy abstracts. Having had no formal art training, Benjamin is able to approach making with no inhibitions or preconceptions (at least not the ones that most who pass through art school are likely to have). The resulting works are full of energy and exploration, with powerful brush strokes that communicate the animalistic movement and bold gestures that have taken place.
Alongside these large-scale paintings, Benjamin is also showing a group of photographs and a selection of ceramic pots. The photographs document some of the un-common and un-celebrated sights that he comes across in East Anglia, and again these include both the natural world – verges, untended patches of land, wild plants and weeds, and the manmade – abandoned materials, people he has followed, strange activity.
Perhaps the connection between Benjamin’s works is an interest in the marginal and ignored – the stuff that is often left out and unconsidered. This can be fertile ground – the patch of land that is left untended and begins to return to nature has a different kind of life-force – it is untamed and unchecked and finds its own path. And the rubbish that we discard also has its own life – it forms piles, rots and decays, or is picked up by some passerby to become part of something made from what we consider to be useless trash.
About the artist
Benjamin Brown (b.1989) is an emerging artist living in Manningtree, the smallest town in the UK. As a musician he has played in various bands and is currently a member of SuperGlu. He started painting in 2015.
The Triptych Athos, Porthos, Aramis was selected as one of the featured works in the Penarth Open and some of his photos were selected for Martin Parr’s Essence of Essex exhibition at Firstsite.