Harrison Pearce (b. 1986) lives and works in London.
His debut show ‘HOST’ at Carl Kostyál takes its title from composer Thomas Stone’s earlier work of the same name, made in response to his horror at how parasitic bacteria can affect the behaviour of their host and how that same process can occur with parasitic ideas which inveigle their way into the host’s mind and from there, spread.
The works in this exhibition were born of the artist’s formerly unwavering belief in empirical knowledge (he holds a Masters in analytic philosophy) and, for him, its greatest test: at the age of 28, a series of brain scans revealed an anomaly in the morphology of his brain. Asymptomatic, he had no way to assimilate the idea that his body was playing host to a potentially fatal malfunction. He determined to face this new reality by forensically examining the mechanics of empirical logic in which he is so well-versed. The question of mind-body dualism was never so prescient. Cogito, ergo sum. How was his mind (an immaterial substance engaged in rational thought, imagining, feeling, sensation) separated from his brain (a physical mechanism), if at all, and who or what was the ‘I’ he was so determined to save. It transpired later that while the anomaly was real, the diagnosis was flawed.
That his fate had rested in a fallible reading of data led him to scrutinise systems of codification and measurement in multiple contexts, far beyond the Promethean arrogance and clinical sterility of medical science, to better comprehend the level of approximation and porousness at the heart of all human forms of analysis in which we nevertheless place such faith: how the cloudy space of first generation X-rays had to be codified before it could be de-codified to reveal change; how, in Chaos theory, when the calculation is too big to compute automatically, human intuition is considered superior; how translation from one language to another is inevitably characterised by a level of indeterminacy, and so on.
Similar perhaps to Mel Bochner’s early 1960s installations, where readymade systems of measurement and language and their limited ability to explain and describe an object were put to the test, Pearce’s ongoing exploration of the mechanics of measurement, using the grammar of painting and sculpture as his vehicle, poses many open-ended propositions. It is possible he shares a similar aim to Bochner, whose intention was that “art could go from being the record of someone else’s perception to becoming the recognition of your own.”
The paintings, a riposte to his own sculpture practice, nod to the violent tangle of limbs of Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina (‘Ghost’, ‘Long Phrase I II & III’, ‘Siphon’ and ‘Forebear’), the off-white severed simalcrums of body parts variously squeezed, trapped, constrained or contained in a convoluted and threatening web of sleek tubes and mechanical, occasionally Cyborg-esque, apparatus (‘Sentinel A’ & ‘Sentinel B’) that seem to hover in their own space-time continuum. Their ghostly monochrome hue, borrowed from the shadowy imaging of the MRI scans of his own brain, is deliberate, black and white necessarily revealing less information and therefore obfuscating, rather than offering any certainty of understanding. The stark lighting effects and omnipresent sense of existential crisis are reminiscent of film noir, even of a creeping Surrealism.
If these paintings, each with its own specific subject, are an open sketch book of impossible, fantastical ideas, the dynamic element of the exhibition, the mobile sculpture ‘Stateless’, is an object with its subject removed. An empty metal cube on wheels, it is programmed with data that propel its movement in a physical demonstration of Buridan’s ass, the paradox of moral determinism discussed first by Aristotle and later explored by the French 14th century philosopher Jean Buridan. It refers to a hypothetical situation wherein an ass that is equally hungry and thirsty is placed precisely midway between a stack of hay and a pail of water. Since the paradox assumes the ass will always go to whichever is closer, it dies of both hunger and thirst since it cannot make any rational choice between the hay and water.
The robotic sculpture is programmed with data that determine its movement. It is capable of six separate functions to move its ‘limbs’. The crisis of metastability occurs when it receives two equal sets of data. Unable to make an instinctive decision, it is paralysed. This paralysis lends the machine an intensely human and accidentally sympathetic aspect. Its inability to take action unlocks the parallel preoccupations of the artist in the making of these works. In the act of creating, indecision, and the often arbitrary human response to it, reigns supreme. In making his art, the one space where a scientific methodology has no place, Pearce wills the machine to take those decisions out of his hands. But the centre will not hold.
Harrison Pearce holds an MFA from City & Guilds of London Art School and an MA in Philosophy from Birkbeck, University of London. Recent exhibitions include ‘HOST’, Carl Kostyál, London; ‘Absolute Pressure’, Ribot Gallery, Milan; Maladapted, Baert Gallery, Los Angeles; ‘Stockholm Sessions’, Carl Kostyál, Stockholm; ‘Soft Display’, Division of Labour, Manchester, UK; West Bund Art Fair, Mine Project, Shanghai; ‘Friends and Friends of Friends’, Schlossmuseum, Linz, Austria.