MAstars 2010: Matthew Wickham, MFA

MAstars 2010: Matthew Wickham, MFA Matthew Wickham, Museum of the Hyperreal: Boo Inside the White Cube, detail of installation, 2010. Installation

Laura Simpson selects Matthew Wickham from Gray's School of Art for MAstars

Museum of the Hyperreal: Boo Inside the White Cube

On entering Matthew Wickham's MFA exhibition space you encounter an odour which, even through an extended period of time, never loses its potency, defying the rules of persistence. The smell is difficult to place as it conjures both wholly natural, earthy environment and also an unpleasant, fusty human odour. In this initial display of three, which comprise the full installation, there are clothes and bedclothes looking like damp personal effects of a lonely, long-gone, prospector. They have moved into a realm of abstraction, becoming sculptural. The bedding is plump and heavy, laid out on a pallet bed-plinth. The cigarettes overflow into a rosette of dreary time markers from a metal ashtray.

A small table and chair, formed by lashing together slim tree branches form another domestic vignette. Carefully positioned atop the table is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Nearby is evidence of other sustenance: a large group of empty, unlabelled whiskey bottles.

There is also a trunk of clothes. Some appropriate to a rough outdoor lifestyle, others, the clothes of a performer, including a top hat. Another item hinting at showmanship is an animal skull topped stave. These connect to key points about Wickham's approach. The first being that he has a collaborator or alter-ego called Boo Simulacrum. The second, that Wickham/Simulacrum see their role as artist-shaman.

Within the second space of the exhibition is a white cube. Inside there is a long bushel of sticks, leaning in the corner, reaching almost to the ceiling. There are charcoal marks, gestural and uncertain, on the walls and floor. Both ends of the long twigs are charred and their connection to the marks starts an imagining process of what movement would be possible, within the cube, with the burden of the wall to wall drawing bushel. Wickham states that this work examines the 'difficult relationship that the outsider artist and the time-based media artist have with the formal 'White Cube' gallery context'. I think that the literal element to this idea is much less powerful than the poetic and cleansing, non-figurative moment that the light-flooded, mark-scattered cube provides within the two other, obsessively presented, object-based sections of the installation. It also primes the viewer physically, heightening the awareness of the user of the possessions on show. Having said that, the idea of persistence in the face of awkwardness is certainly evident.

Within the third space there is a video projection with a soundtrack of nature. A series of carefully positioned implements are displayed on plinths. Saws, knives, hatchets and a saw bench. Wickham calls these items 'performative residue'.

Unfolding in the video is a purposeful scene of work. A male figure, clothed in a long, dark wool overcoat, knitted hat and boots, moves through a time-ambiguous, snow bound, rural landscape. He is intriguing and mysterious, especially after the biography in possessions presented earlier. The figure gathers together a bushel of sticks. He carries this burden through the landscape too an old shed where he, using the old-fashioned hand tools displayed on the attendant plinths, constructs a simple upright lectern or pulpit, before packing it all up and setting off from the shed. This lectern is methodically re-assembled in the next scene which takes place in a contrastingly urban, municipal but deserted setting. Always working swiftly, the bearded protagonist puts together the lectern and positions it facing the camera before taking post behind it. He seems not to have anything to declare, however, and uses the time to find a cigarette and drink from his bottle before walking towards the camera just before the screen goes blank.

The video embodies a bridging action. The character is a loner and self-sufficient, perhaps one of the 'under-valued, under-privileged, excluded and disenfranchised members of our society' which Wickham refers to in his writing. But yet he works persistently and skilfully to make a mechanism for engaging with others. This action, in a way, fulfils itself: To deliver a message by making the means to deliver a message.

Selected by Laura Simpson
Published October, 2010

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