Essay By Andrew Paul Wood: Ben Pearce, ‘Everything Remote Intermingles’
Up until 1609 when English astronomer Thomas Harriot first pointed a telescope at the moon and began drawing what he saw, the Earth’s natural satellite was always something of an abstraction. It took the telescope’s revelation of mountains and craters to give the moon materiality and make it a fully-fledged world in its own right, rather than simply a big reflective ball or disc in the night sky.
A similar effect comes into play when artist Ben Pearce takes an otherwise recognisable, mundane object like a clothes iron (Travel light / Warnings for travellers and Comfort 100 / The world is new), or an anachronistic, timeless candle holder (Being in one place whilst thinking about another), or a coffee pot, and using jeweller’s tools, drills a Lilliputian lunar landscape of craters into their surfaces.
The craters are immediately recognisable, iconic since humans first went there in the 1960s, and create an intense aura of physical materiality. Objects become worlds. At the same time the lunar textures become something other than what they represent, surreal and disjointed much as M.C. Escher used them in his famous 1947 woodcut, Another World II. The familiar becomes, in Freud’s term, unheimlich – “uncanny”.
It is a particularly interesting response to the use of metal as a medium in art, eschewing the traditions of casting and assemblage for a repurposing of commercial engineering technologies, subtraction and reduction rather than the more familiar welding together. Pearce’s practice exists within a genealogy of other unique artistic innovators like Louise Bourgeois, Francis Uprtichard, Gabriel Orozco, Peter Robinson, Carol Bove, Joseph Beuys and David Shrigley, challenging the form to bring something of the magical other back into our reality. Like spiritualist mediums they materialise tangible symbolic form from the ectoplasm of dream and memory.
Other objects are less obvious in their functionality. They might be a handle (Affix this in your home), which allows someone ownership with the choice of what it might be attached to or how it might be used to ornament and guard a treasured possession) or some arcane gimbal from an unknown and unknowable machine. The moon itself is topologically morphed into long rods and other shapes, as if pulled by the gravitational tidal forces of a black hole with an aesthetic imagination into the flutes and wands of a lunar wizard. The witches of ancient Thessaly were legendarily able to call down the moon, and here it is repackaged for you. These are objects that invite you to tell your own stories about them.
Some works are more self-consciously functionless. For Mel Blanc is a human-sized quasi-abstract sculpture in Corten Steel in honour of the voice artist behind such Warner Brother’s characters as Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, and the Tasmanian Devil. Within its lively silhouette are allusions to these characters and others in a kind of distillation of their caricature and absurdity, an idol to the cosmic and metaphysical trickster archetypes of the mid-twentieth century. The bulbous forms of the cartoon have been stretched and distorted into something more angular and jagged, dancing through the axis of their core, as a leaping off point to explore the abstract formalist possibilities.
The novels of the French father of science fiction, Jules Verne, are a touch stone. Verne first conceived of a scientifically plausible way for humans to visit the moon by being fired in a shell from a giant canon in his novel From the Earth to the Moon (1865). One work, Six literal, consecutive, 24-hour days, even suggests a resonance with the famous scene in Georges Méliès’ 1902 cinematic pastiche of Verne, A Trip to the Moon, where the bullet-shaped craft of the would-be astronauts pierces the eye of the Man in the Moon.
From outer space to inner space. One work, the self-explanatory Tell this your fears, invites the audience to cathartically inscribe their deepest fears on a piece of copper with a cratered pencil. Perhaps this is suggestive of another overall, less obvious theme of the exhibition; fear and hopelessness. Each object carries with it the dolorous function of memento mori, a reminder of the fragility and finite ephemerality of life, as if some future alien xenoarchaeologist the size of an ant has come along to find them floating in the void of space, pitted and pocked by meteorites and dust.
To that end, Pearce’s work touches on deep subconscious human anxieties; fear of death, fear of abandonment, fear of loss, and the general existential absurdity of the human condition. Tactile objects have always played a part in allowing human beings to cope with these feelings, from rosary beads, to knocking on wood, to stroking a pet. There is a wonderful inevitable logic to distilling these emotions into the objects themselves.
Ben Pearce, Everything Remote Intermingles, is on view at Parlour Projects, Hawke’s Bay from February 22 to March 18, 2017. www.parlourprojects.com.