Wednesday, 1 March 2017

They came from outer Somerton...

In Jack Finney’s 1950s sci-fi classic ‘Invasion of the body snatchers’ alien seeds invade Earth from outer-space replacing people with perfect physical duplicates grown from plantlike pods. The novel become a metaphor for the paranoia and fears of communist-like conformity present in US society at the time; an examination of our fear of 'the other'. In the year 2017 I explore what can a 1950’s sci-fi novel and an exhibition featuring human-sized, interactive and immersive sculptures have in common and what relevance, if any, that has today.....

The human mind searches for cause and effect, always; and we all prefer the weird and thrilling to the dull and commonplace as an answer.”

Where did they come from? Why are they here?

The podules lie dormant, an almost engulfing presence but one that is so strange that it beckons further investigation from sight and touch of their contours and hairs, intestinal-like villi and skins of varying colours and textures. I pluck up the courage to step-inside one and climb into another -Ooer! Perhaps never to be seen again like a fly lured into a venus flytrap... inside I’m enveloped in a soft-padded walled membrane, an outer-shell covered in veins that seem to pulse and thrum with a subtle glow that suggests the presence of life or an otherworldly-ness. Though there is nothing sinister about these pods if anything they are more bodily, womb-like, relaxing. Far bigger than a man but ergonomically proportioned to fit the cup of a hand or enclose the shape of a seated human-figure. There is an indistinct sound generated from within the pods that I cannot quite place and a smell, not unpleasant, but another sensory distraction in what is already an unusual encounter. 
Sometimes fiction is more remarkable than fact.The fact is, the day is Tuesday 28th February and I am visiting Somerton’s Ace Arts Gallery to view an exhibition by Jan Nedojadlo. What I am confronted with are a series of large fabric clad, textured pod-like or utopian structures that are interactive, designed with places within which to sit, rest and explore (the only ingredient missing probably was a mist machine). These pods, like their sci-fi counterpart are designed to inhabit the human form in which the viewer can become miniaturised into a sensorial innerworld of lights, textures and smells. Thankfully with these pods there is no threat of menace or intent on creating body-doubles to take over the world, but they do have the ability to change or alter those who choose to spend time in them offering unique spaces for rest, reflection and relax. In some ways the pods do contend with the notion of ‘fear of the other’ by creating spaces that help people confront fears of disability and/or mental health. I’d like to see some really political pods, out of context in the gallery and for example in campsites in Calais for refugees, made with refugees and other minority groups and the possible outcomes that could produce.
Their form,derived from human organs, hands and the liver,
commissioned by a pharmaceutical company, another, a spine built working with patients in mind for the Stoke Mandiville Spinal Unit. That in itself should be enough reason to want to investigate but I was almost disappointed to accept the grown-up reality that these imaginative things had not landed from space and as far as I am aware at least, made by an artist who is human of some sort (I’ve met a few artists who I’d be less sure!). The illusion of organic form being made from common place or recycled materials such as the bristles from brooms, towels and wire was no less fantastical in its inventiveness and transformation, in fact perhaps unintentionally it links well with the environmental themes in ‘Invasion of the body snatchers’ but nonetheless I was left with the overwhelming feeling that this work is better confronted not knowing that this red furry husk-shaped thing I’d taken fascination in exploring from every angle for the last ten minutes is meant to be a liver or that their purpose of creation arose from a utilitarian practicality around its funding as either a health-care tool or science fair exhibit,
both of which for me turn it into a holistic form of glorified interactive furniture. I want to believe the pods are art objects in their own right, my critique more perhaps on the way in which audiences are invited to think about these objects, the amount of information that is presented, is what I am questioning. Sure, one can choose not to read artist statements, but I think why have them there at all if they’re not meant to be read. This exhibition had me thinking a lot about interpretation and the imaginativeness of it, sometimes the overly prescriptive nature of how an art work is rationalised can alienate (if you pardon the pun) an audience rather than present one distinct concept as a point from which many meanings can proliferate. I do not need to know that the piece central to this exhibition titled ‘Hand's of God’ was created from a Christian ‘experience’ in order for me to relate to it in a spiritual way. 
When modern men and women lost religious faith, they lost the associated belief that human beings are special, that we were created with purpose to undertake a life with meaning. Science, technology, and politics have not yet filled that void and probably never will be able to do so, especially not if they continue to be powered by the ideologies that have thus far informed them. If we believe that we are just animals, without immortal souls, we are already but one step removed from pod people.” Dean Koontz writing about ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’

I’ve tried to use ‘Invasion of the body snatchers’ as a way of framing the themes and ideas I feel has been explored in this work. It is a different approach to how I normally write and viewers visiting the actual exhibition may experience the it very differently. I would just ask that sometimes art is at its most creative for the questions that it raises or the interpretations it ignites rather than knowing its answers. Answers are boring.

Forth into the unknown...
Catch the podules before the beam of to another galaxy near you at Ace Arts, Somerton until March 11th.

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