Reviews

Harrison Pearce : The pressure not to believe

In response to exhibition ‘Maladapted’ at Baert Gallery, Los Angeles

WRITTEN BY GABRIELLA SONABEND, PUBLISHED IN SCULPTORVOX ISSUE III, JUNE 2019

Growing up in a home where Reiki was favoured over Christianity and crystals were in abundance, Harrison Pearce was sceptical about religion and spirituality from a young age. Watching his mother experiment with a plethora of mystic and occult practices and finding this too vague and poetic, Harrison sought for the empirical, the hard facts of science. Drawn to systems and logic, he studied philosophy and believed in the determinism of data and laboratory style testing until science offered him a personal equation which didn’t add up.

In 2014 Harrison had a series of brain scans which showed his brain to be undergoing atrophy, in other words it appeared to be destroying itself. His doctors’ diagnosis said one thing, science was making a statement which implied his life could soon be over but somehow all of the evidence was incorrect. As Harrison prepared himself for the possibility of the rapid end of his short life though he had medical evidence to prove his brain was disappearing he felt no evidence within himself. Science, the one thing he had clung to as a given was morphing and contradicting itself within him. For someone already obsessed with existentialist philosophy this must have been the ultimate enigma, the Hilary Putnam ‘brain in a vat’ thought experiment heightened to a new extent in his waking reality. 

Putman's experiment is an evolution of the Cartesian idea of the evil demon puppeteer who controls the human vessel and presents a world of illusion which the human is forced to experience and navigate. This idea was later popularised through science-fiction films Ghost In A Shell, Bladerunner and The Matrix but prior to this it dominates the writing of Philip K Dick and Arthur C Clarke. The internet era has brought another layer to this metaphor as every human (not only mad and evil scientists) can now programme virtual worlds and create endless loops of identity pointing further and further away from the empirical and the ‘real’. 

Harrison Pearce, Maladapted at Baert Gallery, Los Angeles USA, 2019

Harrison Pearce, Maladapted at Baert Gallery, Los Angeles USA, 2019

Contemporary artists have been obsessed with these ideas for decades now, Susan Hiller, Ryan Trecarten, Haroon Mirza, Nathaniel Mellors and Cildo Meirelles to name a few. As our technology becomes increasingly advanced and closer to sentients the role of the creative within this shifts and ideas of the creative machine expands. Though Harrison reads extensively about scientific developments and is armed with references and quotes he is adamant that he is an amateur in the field and that his work is a presentation of the unknowable and the visceral sensory world this evokes rather an illustration of known ideas. Referencing the visual language of science Harrison constructs a world where amateurs may be fooled into thinking they are witnessing truly functional experimental scientific machines.

Harrison Pearce, Interview (Prototype), 2017

Harrison Pearce, Interview (Prototype), 2017

The god complex is something artists relish, the questions of whether the artist seeks to play god is as old as time and indeed is referenced throughout the Old Testament as idol worship is banned as it usurps an idea of gods image. The greatest artworks present riddles so complex and nuanced that they appear divine, possessing qualities which seem to come from the beyond and many artists have described themselves as channels for divine inspiration. Harrison does not make this claim but his world is a certainly a riddle and one which is deeply connected to a universal existential questioning.

I see a link to Buddhism and the striving for enlightenment via becoming at one with everything and I am delighted to discover that Harrison was a practitioner of Zen Buddhism and studied Kung Fu in China and it was this practice which led to his interest in broader philosophy and although it is no longer a part of his daily life, it lingers in his work. To me Harrison’s works speak of universality and the duality of existence: particularly the split between the body and the mind or rather between the self and the projection of the self. Seeking to use materials that elude references to race or ethnicity, Harrison beckons the viewer into a more molecular idea of self, his bouncing inflated sculptures suggesting the movement of atomic structures, of organs and hive minds. Standing in the centre of one of his installations or in front of a large kinetic work one feels like they are experiencing a complex architecture which perhaps lies beneath the surface of the everyday world we see. The forces Harrison presents could be malevolent, nurturing, violent or passive but in all examples of his work which I have seen, these forces are apparent and illicit an unnervingly emotional response from their viewers.

Harrison Pearce, ‘Bambi’, Sisyphus In Retrograde, London, 2019

Harrison Pearce, ‘Bambi’, Sisyphus In Retrograde, London, 2019

‘Bambi’ a piece which presents a larger rubber form protecting a smaller form as mechanic arms probe over the larger surface; seems indisputably about power structures. Immediately I projected a narrative of mother and child, of torture, experimentation and sacrifice. The large form embracing the smaller reminded me of a mothers instinct to protect her child regardless of the pain and violence she may be experiencing. The piece creates an eerie mechanical sound as the compressor which fuels it keeps it in motion. Standing in front of ‘Bambi’ for a while, I was amazed by the emotional world it evoked for me reminding me of parent child relationships in films, fiction and amongst friends and my own family. The work seemed to be about empathy itself and was extraordinarily effective in creating an abstract scenario with the power to emotionally shake it’s viewer.

Harrison Pearce, Maladapted at Baert Gallery, Los Angeles USA, 2019

Harrison Pearce, Maladapted at Baert Gallery, Los Angeles USA, 2019

In Harrison’s most recent solo exhibition ‘Maladapted’ at Baert Gallery in Los Angeles he presented an installation where a large purple metallic structure (referencing sex toys, female reproductive anatomy, medical probes) is surrounded by small metal boxes encasing balloons which are programmed to bounce around their enclosures. The piece is engineered so that the balloons movement is seemingly arbitrary, an algorithm designed to keep changing the order and speed at which they move, culminating in a climax at which point all balloons are rapidly bouncing together. Again this piece presents a strange ambiguity of power and its impossible to know whether the artist is playing a trick on the viewer, presenting an unsolvable puzzle, or whether he simply is offering an environment which triggers a web of thoughts balloons bouncing like synapsis firing through the brain. Perhaps Harrison’s works are the gospel of a new religious or scientific order, playing with language of dogma and occultism, testing and probing systems to lure us into trusting.

The aesthetic of Harrison’s forms could be associated with the slapstick comedy of the Vaudeville performers, the skin of Bernini’s marble statues, the abstraction of Henry Moore’s figures equally it reminds us of the operating theatre, the dentists tools, industrial kitchens and the ectoplasm of spirits unknown. The work suggests something deeply profound that requires the audience to somehow solve but perhaps the answer to Harrison’s riddle is as elegant as the MacGuffin which exists only to create an atmosphere and allow the audience to travel within their own thought experiments rather than handing them an easy answer.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND BAERT GALLERY

Gabriella Sonabend