647nM represents a collaboration between photographer Solomon Mortimer, sculptor Suji Park and choreographer/performance artist Zahra Killeen-Chance.
The photographs on show are accompanied by both a video and a live performance, but the content of the images themselves also speaks of a multidisciplinary approach to artmaking. For this exhibition, Mortimer has pivoted away from the documentary approach which has characterised much of his previous output. Rather than naturalistic portraits or observational studies, these works are investigations of the sculptural possibilities of the body; rather than people’s faces, we are shown knees, backs and feet, segmented features which highlight the ambivalent possibilities of each discrete site.
In these photographs, Mortimer investigates the complex relationship between the human body and the objects and technologies which surround it, restricting and compartmentalising it at the same time as it is supported and nurtured. The titular image shows Killeen-Chance reclining on a tanning bed which has been modified to use a particular wavelength of red light, believed to have particular regenerative properties. Her covered face and simple one-piece garment give the scene the rarefied air of some exclusive health farm or private clinic, or possibly some more sinister, dystopian scenario. Broken up over four separate photographs, Killeen-Chance’s body is fractured and displaced, reconfigured by technology into a series of disjointed zones.
Another image, showing Killeen-Chance’s foot resting on a triad of rainbow-hued holographic slinkies from Park’s collection, hints at the possibility of more playful interactions between the body and the products and processes of material culture. The never-ending tide of consumer goods which pours over us on a daily basis is disorienting and overwhelming, but also offers opportunities for moments of whimsy such as this, small interventions which reclaim some measure of humanity amidst the manufactured chaos. In contrast, the collaborative video Surreptitious Stretch shows Killeen-Chance performing while draped in a piece of fabric printed by Park, in front of an austere cinder block wall. The fabric, which completely obscures her face and body, is suggestive of a sinister, invasive metamorphosis, which obliterates personal identity entirely. The industrial feel of the environment in which she performs gives the sense that an institutional process may have inflicted this situation on her from the outside.
In conversation with the other elements of the exhibition is Killeen-Chance’s live performance, Soft with a Realistic Feel. This work is a choreographic exploration, which directs the audience towards ambiguous plays of relation within the embodied, sensory encounter of performance. Killeen-Chance negotiates the seen and unseen body, becoming neither one nor the other.
For Serruia Carmen, Suji Park has sculpted a baroque form around Killeen-Chance’s arm, an adornment which is also a trap. Confined by this elaborate manacle, the limb becomes artificial, like that of a mannequin, as though her skin were in the process of metamorphosing into a hybrid compound of flesh and plastic. Park’s sculpture is itself an amalgamation of different materials: plaster, foam, ceramics recycled from her studio, and plastic aquarium plants. The image seems like a deranged magazine shoot, an advertisement for a product which is already devolving and mutating, even as the photograph attempts to freeze and market it: the potted plant in the background is dying even as the plastic fronds and glittering confetti of Park’s creation blossom into weird, synthetic life.
More than anything else, these works are about how photography and video can be used as tools to comment on and document other aspects of artmaking. Messy, tactile processes like sculpture and performance become transferable and digestible through the medium of photography, but it also imposes on them its own conventions and strictures, rephrasing them as something other than themselves.