MARK HARRIS: PRO PATRIA - A CONTINUOUS SERIES 2009-2015 - press release
24th April 2015 - 31st May 2015
The Continuous Series is a body of collages, prints and sculptures that were created over the past 6 years. Initially influenced by the global architectural visions of the 1960’s, in particular the Italian architect group Superstudio and Constant Nieuwenhuy’s New Babylon, the work explored the idea of a Continuous Defence, a global Hadrian’s Wall. It depicted a never-ending barrier that crossed an undefined historical, present or future landscape.
For Harris the barriers were also a metaphor for the difficult but rewarding act of crossing artistic disciplines and practices between the artist, the architect and the designer.
His practice is driven by an interest in the Continuous Movement of the materials and processes of printed matter; from it’s beginning as one of thousands in a mass commercial print market, to a unique and forgotten item of ephemera. The unwanted book at its final resting place re-discovered and then re-appropriated into collages and prints, back to a multiple, is a constant catalyst.
The recent Continuous State series revisits themes of Utopian landscapes and architecture. The architectonic three-dimensional work is made from the covers of books, the foundations which protect and contain knowledge. Like the many past unrealized architectural projects such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre, they are imagined schemes of future social and political planning.
“To-day architects are concerned with human needs, but there is still exploration to be made on that tenuous border between art and architecture where the abstract artist and the architect speak a common language. Architecture must be left to the architect. Is the artist to remain a chamber architect or a back-room boy, or is there a real place for him in architecture? By its very nature such an architectonic art can have something to offer the architect, since it is pure and not utilitarian". Mary Martin, Artist 1957
The absorbing collages of Mark Harris salvage utopian thought from the forgotten pages of history. The artist uses old library books as his source material: abandoned, discarded and rejected repositories of knowledge and ideologies that have been surpassed by new editions, approaches and interests. From these books, Harris creates glimpses into new worldsand onto new ideas. Repurposing the cast-off materials of the past, he rekindles our interest in alternative ways of looking at the future.
Harris cuts out geometric shapes from the pages and photographs of book illustrations - often simple triangles, squares or rhombuses. Again and again, they depict architectural features sometimes entire buildings, recalling the past promises of planned environments. Harris re-arranges the architectonic forma, excising them from their historic context and re-framing them in midst a landscape of scattered shards and cut-outs. The crystalline structures that surround his concrete buildings nod towards the expressionist architecture of the early 1920's, an alternative modernism sometimes forgotten today.
By converting the images into shapes and patterns, Harris retains the historic atmosphere of his source material but transforms them into different forms and content. His works imagined schemes of social and political structures evoking ideas of possible future proposal.
London Open 2015 catalogue essay by Daniel F. Herrmann Curator
FRONTIER STUDIES – MARK HARRIS
GALLERIA UNO+UNO, MILAN
As we all know the word Utopia begins with Thomas More essay De optimo statu deque reipublicae nova insula Utopia, the term in question makes the following etymology: from the ancient greek ou (not) and topos (place). A not place where a perfect society can be established, but since this place remains ideal, this aspiration cannot be realized.
Hesiod spoke of a golden age in which no one ever grew old, had no concerns and anxiety, or where disease and misery were unknown.
Among the Utopians who have preceded More: Aristophanes, Evemero, Plutarch, Phaleas of Chalcedon, Hippodamus of Miletus, Ovid, Virgil and Horace mostly describe Utopia’s as places of happiness, freedom and equality.
From the late eighteenth early twentieth century utopias focused on many social and political ideals and even radically anti-religious, aimed at promoting some form of socialism or communism: Travels in Icaria by Etienne Cabet, The coming race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and News from Nowhere by William Morris. On Morris I would like to linger: behind the imaginative activity of the dream, as it is presented by this author, is always hidden, the fulfillment of a collective human desire that, through removal processes, synthesis and screening, is the depositary of a cognitive universe tended to convey the voice of conscience to mytho-poetic referent.
This affinity between oneiric work and aesthetic language is reflected in the narrative production of William Morris, "dreamer of dreams" Victorian par excellence, as well as cultural mediator between mythology and socialism of Marxist derivation.
For these reasons, Mark Harris works moves from these ideas to cross many of the historical experiences of visual art, architecture and literature that have questioned the concept of Utopia. This is the reason why Harris does not identify a place or a certain time. His titles provide general guidance, only vague descriptive words such as north seascape, eastern depot, southern archway and western woodlands. It is possible, instead, to reascend accurately to precise iconographic references that guide him in his search for aesthetic: Superstudio, Vorticism, Futurism, László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Nash, Samuel Palmer, Caspar Friedrich and Hokusai.
In the past Mark Harris produced paintings or drawings on original photographs of ruins taken throughout Europe immediately after the Second World War. Most of the materials with which he now works are 50, 60, 70 years old with signs of aging: worn corners, creases, grease from fingers, glue and dust marks. Harris intervenes on the images adding new, abstract; trenches, gateways, involved in the ambiguous intention to protect and conceal the image itself. Initially three years ago, when he started this series of works, Harris was looking for unusual images to work on, then he began to consider also the end papers, corners of discarded images and the book covers. In revisiting these waste materials, he has discovered new media to work with. He creates radical architecture, which sometimes transforms from the two-dimensional into sculptures.
A conspicuous area, of the by now vast literature on the evolution of the image in the age of media never tires of bringing attention to a change in aesthetic paradigm. The proliferation of the digital universe, the rapid obsolescence of analogue related technologies, studies and applications of the virtual (especially in film, but also in other arts) would mark the advent of a dimension completely unpublished due to which the image seems to have finally celebrated in his own immanence, freed of all legacy of the traditional concept of mimesis. Staying in the area of analogue image, this exhibition covers the digital image to the extent that, paradoxically, is able to imitate.
This solo exhibition by Mark Harris, stepping back in a genealogical way, or identifying some basic epistemic paradigms or nodes around which it is moved and is moving the reflection on the recent status of the aesthetic image, contributes to the debate concerning the relationship between image, representation and mimesis, through a set of images subject to manual intervention, will implement a simulation of hypertext reports analyzed by the new technologies to investigate backward the evolution of the process of building image, choosing, not surprisingly, Utopia as single subject and its historical evolution.
text by Marco Tagliaferro - Curator and contributor for Flash Art, Artforum and Mousse magazines
Continuous Movement - Solo Exhibition Aus 18 Galleria 2010
Mark Harris’ recent works are small in size but epic in scale – and slightly disturbing: their subject matter, landscapes and fragments of buildings ensnared by insistent growths of facetted triangular elements, that combine into larger structures and meshes. These appear sometimes as small barbs or huge agglomerations, or rear up as intricate skeletal frameworks.
The material presence of these ‘abstract devices’, as Harris describes them, appears across all the works – collaged, drawn or modelled - and worked up in pencil, ink or paint over found images: often architectural photographs and landscape drawings, but also utilising the folders they were stored in or the book-covers that protected them.
Several of the images for the earlier Defence series of works are photographs of classical ruins; others etchings of eighteenth-century capriccios - of rural idylls scattered with the architectural carcasses of a heroic Classical past.
And like capriccios, Harris’ works revel in the joy of drawing, mark-making and the constructing of the image, with their intensively worked up or deftly delineated areas. But they remain altogether darker and more ambiguous in meaning – an ambiguity added to by the prefix to many of the works’ titles: A Continuous Defense. But these spiky ‘devices’ appear more aggressive than passive, invasive rather than defensive. Are these images of a failed, broken defense under a new order - the remnants of a past already partly subsumed? Or are the triangular forms themselves ruins? Fragments of failed mega-structures recalling Sixties utopian projects: such as Constant Niewenhuys’ ‘New Babylon’ – a structure that crossed the planet proposing new collective society – or perhaps more pertinently the work of Superstudio which critiqued this. Their Continuous Monument project presented an endless grid of cool white modernist blocks stretching seamlessly across the globe. Harris consciously references this project in the title of his show, but his structures are the polar opposite in form: more akin to brambles growing over an old battlefield.
These speculative readings are further accentuated by the works subtitles: Northern Gate, Western Depot. But what grand historical narrative is depicted? Are these snapshots from the outposts of a fallen empire or city after some calamitous defence?
These overlapping ambiguities are played out in a number of ‘seascape’ works, such as Continuous Defense – Northern Break in which the carcass of a boat is half-capsized, covered in a crust of triangulated matter, in front of a lofty iceberg. But is the trail of shards streaming away from, or towards, the stricken hull?
In other examples, shards themselves have become iceberg-sized: forming compositions that play on the pleasure and fear in the contemplation of ‘sublime’ nature seen in the work of Caspar David Friedrich – both his vasty vistas but also the fractured surfaces in his painting Das Eismeer (Frozen Ocean) 1823-4, and its echoing descendant Paul Nash’s Totes Meer (Dead Sea) 1940-1, a pit of German aircraft debris.
Other narratives are contained here that give a richness to this collective body of work.
There is the history of the appropriated images themselves, which for Harris is particularly important. These were pictures on their last journey, unlooked at pages in pulp-destined books. This material was on the point of dissolution, rescued as valueless stuff from the back of a charity shop, and given new value through being worked upon, even partially erased - or chopped up, in the case of the book covers, into a myriad of splinters re-assembled into maquettes. In all this a strong element of chance plays out: shops entered or passed by, piles of old books noticed or overlooked, or in particular here, the folders of architectural images that Harris came across his father-in-law throwing out: material that went on to generate and form the basis for so many of these works.
But contrasting with this element of chance, is the background narrative here, the methodical process of making once the material has been accumulated - of Harris working, moving around the studio, selecting images, painting, drawing, cutting: a ‘continuous movement’ also in part commemorated by the show’s title.
And of course this is a developing narrative: a practice measurably moving on work by work: winnowing ideas, modifying methods. Thus in more recent Continuous Defense works, the triangular facets have started taking to the air – looping up as arch-like formations, dissipating into skeletal frameworks that merely encircle and frame the architectural elements.
Or there is Harris’ seemingly effortless move into the making of maquettes, in which ‘devices’ are modelled through fractured book-covers.
Most recent is the series of new works titled Continuous Movement. Here the working of the surface has been further fragmented and simplified – with collaged elements often the cut-out shapes of gridded Modernist blocks. Some of the works appear more as graphics, recalling the collages and drawings of Constructivism, but also its architecture: Continuous Movement – Northeast Tower echoing the form of Tatlin’s tower, seeming to give a political edge to the ‘movement’ of the title.
This shift from the ‘working over’ of more sited architectural forms to the manipulation of the more abstracted, detached facades and outlines of anonymous Modernist blocks, seems to mimic the stereotyped shift in architectural history itself from ‘grounded’ Classical Architecture to unsituated International Modernism.
However many recent drawings remain far more hermetic, without any collaged cues: appearing as delicate delineations like the structural analyses of leaf structures. And ultimately this gives the lie to any need to glean meaning from each work, but to enjoy them as intense iterative exercises in form and texture, similarity and difference – stations on a way, and ones that make the viewer’s own journey around the gallery or through the catalogue, such a rich one.
Catalogue essay Rob Wilson Curator at RIBA