Matt Gee talks to Susie Pentelow following the opening of his solo exhibition, 'Natural Simulations', at HUSK Gallery, London.
You have just opened your new solo exhibition. Bringing together a body of work in this nature is bound to highlight particular trends or threads in your practice. Has anything new come to your attention?
The process for Natural Simulations began last October when I was invited by HUSK, and initially I had set aside a body of work. Since then a completely new body of work has been developed - Shelves of: Faux Specimens Genuinely Archived has been made to fit a 6-metre wall of HUSK.
There’s a thread of work heavily concerned with Geology, in particular with geodes made from expanding foam laced with crystals that I’ve grown over time. I see the foam as a material that has both negative and positive connotations: a high pollutant, yet a tool for longevity with DIY and insulation purposes. I’m fascinated with geodes as initially they appear as dull pebbles or rocks - only the keenest of eyes can discover them and then proceed with cracking them open and revealing their beautiful interior. This can act as a metaphor for how appearances on the outside may not always represent what lies within, and also conjures undertones of the dedicated explorer.
Another thread is where I create artifice by carefully applying and conforming free-flowing materials to manmade found objects. I use materials such as enamel paint or crystal solutions, which although don’t contain DNA grow in an organic and life-like fashion, then forming a process which allows them to physically conform to found materials (such as duck tape, a bombshell or a geometric area on a surface I’ve created).
Something new I’ve noticed is that I make lots of pairs of works and have been looking at medium translation from 2D to 3D and vice versa, which is particularly evident with my ‘Cross-section’ works referencing the 3D works.
You cite environmental and geopolitical issues as central to your work. Do you consider your art to have an agenda? Can or should art take a specific stance?
Art can take many stances or agendas with ranging levels of blatancy, but I don’t think it needs to take strong positions in order to be engaged with.
On one end of the scale artwork may be intended as political propaganda, or a direct replication, such as Mark Wallingers’s 'State Britain' (2007) or practical activist groups such as the Gorilla Girls, whose work is devoted to fighting sexism, racism, and discrimination in politics.
At the other end of the scale there is work that at first glance would not seem to have an agenda, but then, after inspection and clues being slowly unraveled, a specific stance is revealed.
My work’s agenda is quite subtle with certain motifs or titles, eventually leading the viewer to ideas concerned with pollution, mass production or capitalism.
I never intend to preach, allowing breathing space for the viewer to interpret the work as they choose, which in turn can be very inspiring as new unpredictable ideas come forward.
I leave hints such as a brand name left visible on a surface or material, or a bombshell with crystals grown underneath it, resulting in the object being potent symbol alluding to how war can arise from demand for distinguished natural minerals.
Your artwork has a very particular visual language of surfaces, textures, and colors, bringing together neon perspex and mirrors with natural objects such as crystals, geodes, and seashells. How has this language developed over time?
In the past, I’ve used a lot of found natural objects, but seem to be using more imitated objects that I’ve fabricated now. The mirror backdrop as a component has formed and become a binder in works derived from a desire to portray not only a scientific scene but also a retail shop front/high-security setting. Fabrics and velvet flock have been incorporated to make reference to the textile industry.
Neon Perspex is the key representative of the ‘artificial’, it is used as it appears electrically charged but actually glows from utilizing the natural light. I wanted to use this glow to illuminate glossy iridescent pearl clams, or artificial crystal geodes I’ve fabricated, resulting in the layers of white crystal becoming illuminated as if refraction from water in a cave is bouncing off the surface. Crystals are used as their process of growing organically and randomly appeals to me, the idea of the artist using organic material but cultivated in a controlled manner.
Within my mixed media practice, I’ve also ventured into using moving-image incorporated into the installations, as some of my works involve kinetic elements such as crystals growing, turntables rotating, or smoke billowing out of a sculpture. Moving image is an effective medium to capture such processes.
Finally, the extensive ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’ ideas are new, and these are the result of creating a vast (yet carefully cultivated) amount of objects to portray an extensive archive of artificial imitation, that I feel can still attempt to induce feelings of wonder and contemplation as much as authentic natural objects would.
Is the there a particular book or text that has been key to your practice?
Joris Karl Huysman’s novel ‘Against Nature’ has always been influential to me, not necessarily in terms of the story but the outlook of the eccentric sole character, Jean. In his strive for decadence and naturalism, he writes and collects decadent objects from around the world and then starts to believe that the substitute fake flowers are more visually impressive and interesting than the ones he collected from tropical areas.
With my shelves of ‘Faux Specimens Genuinely Archived’, I’m attempting to question whether the authenticity of the objects is important in terms of how much wonder, intrigue, or curiosity, and other traits of scientific inspection they bring when placed in the context of an archival display in an art gallery.
More recently I read an essay called Sculpture Unlimited by Eva Grubinger and Jorg Heiser. Sculpture is such an open-ended and playful medium, yet sometimes needs to be pulled back into formality. Text about the internet and social media resonated in particular with me, likening the digital paths we take to a tattoo in the sense of there always being a trace, and that each addition will leave a form – so rather than the original idea of reducing a medium to make sculpture, there have been shifts to different forms of addition and less formalistic or medium specific.
What is coming up next for you?
In the immediate future: this week I’m included in an exhibition alongside three other artists called Unrooted, which explores physical nature, technology and simulation at Redlees Gallery (TW7 6DW - Private View on Saturday 4 April 6.30-9 pm). This will only be on for that weekend so make sure you catch it while you can!
In May I’m heading to Fljotstunga Farm in Iceland for a two-week residency with an exhibition. I’ll be in complete isolation situated on top of a lava field and next to caves and what looks to be spectacular scenery. I’m looking forward to briefly cutting off from the world, exploring some fascinating geology, not having Wi-Fi, seeing the ‘midnight sun’ then feeling freshly inspired to make new work after.
Further down the line, I have a solo exhibition with the opening on 14 July at Gallery 286, which is owned by hologram and fine art enthusiast Jonathon Ross. It’s a lovely gallery located on Earls Court Road and has two contrasting spaces, which I’m looking forward to working with.
‘Natural Simulations’ runs until 21 April at HUSK Gallery, 649-651 Commercial Road, London, E14 7LW. Visit http://huskcoffee.com for more information.
Find out more about Matt Gee’s work at http://www.mattgeeartist.com.