Wil Murray, THE ONLYES POWER IS NO POWER
October 3 2017 - January 2 2018
15 Bermondsey Square, London, SE1 3UN.
By WILLIAM NOEL CLARKE, NOV. 2017
The Onlyes Power is No Power is Wil Murray’s third solo exhibition with Vitrine Gallery. The Canadian born Berlin-based artist has utilized Vitrine's unique space in a way that speaks of time and change by creating a new "large-scale print series, which uses a hybrid of photography and painting." First shown at The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Canada, in the 2017 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art, the show draws on Murray's family history – that oHoffman’s Novelty Circus, a circus run by Murray’s family that toured each summer through Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia from 1933 to 1943 – and traces its overlapping locations with that of the dropped Japanese Fu-Go “balloon bombs”, of which over 100 fell around the same area between 1944 and 1945. After mapping these locations, Murray photographed their landscapes at winter, when the bombs had fallen, and summer, when the circus toured.
Murray works directly onto the photographic negatives in camera, to interrupt its exposure. This base is then "filled in" by the photograph taken in the other season as they are merged, developed and reformed again by painting over it using his signature-morphed style. Although you can’t make out any figurative elements in the works, you can see the changes in season through the heritage colors used, as well as their play with hot and cold sensations. The works themselves are still developing through its exposure to light; black paint strokes are painted on the glass windows to interfere with the sun's gaze, thereby disrupting its reaction with the photographic negatives. By using both dimensions of the space – its white walls and the glass windows into which you see through – Murray alters the works' compositions using sculptural devices such as shadow; as the day progresses the work becomes shielded and exposed. Gallery-as-laboratory is brought into notion here as the space is transformed into an experimental camera.
The works' liminality speaks of how meaning changes and develops from one point to another, and how journeys are a mechanism of this shift. By creating moments of beauty and poetry, Murray's reflection of time and place collides two seemingly polar histories - that of the Japanese Fu-Go bombs and that of his family - into one. The Japanese Fu-Go bombs that were dropped changed Murray’s family’s geographical history and personal relationship to place through human permanence and, although Murray’s intentions might not be environmentally charged, I can’t help but think that it’s a critique on our accelerated pace which we naively assume is indefinite and infinite.
The title of the series and exhibition is a quotation from Russell Hoban’s post nuclear-apocalyptic novel Riddley Walker that tells of what we might find at the "bitter end of the nuclear road." The book is written in broken English, mainly spelling phonetically or rhyming with existing words, which is why the title is a somewhat nonsensical. It refers to a point in which the protagonist, Riddley Walker, comes to the realization that for what’s left of humanity, knowledge or its pursuit is a negative thing - the only power is no power. This view, however, changes at the end of his journey, where he comes to a sort of enlightenment, and decides that you should turn into the world and leave your "self" behind.
The journey of change that both Walker and Murray have taken are mediations on power and one's personal relationship to it. By framing his works against a post-apocalyptic novel, Murray looks into the future as well as the past to create a divergence by showing us terrible truths and warning us of just-as-terrible nearness. These five works have a timelessness, a depth in which you as a viewer retreat from the world and get lost in their enchanting forms. WM
William Noel Clarke is an artist, curator and writer currently studying on the MFA Curating course at Goldsmiths University, London. Clarke investigates artistic concerns in curatorial practice, such as the projection of the self onto exhibitions and the appropriation of the exhibition format and others work. Clarke’s diversification of artistic practice into the realms of research, pedagogy, performance and the curatorial have been ways of exploring his experience as a creator and maker.
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