Perry’s work engages with significant and pressing environmental issues, in particular the fragility of the planet’s ecosystems (be that land or marine), and the tension between human activity and interventions in the natural environment.
Land/Sea includes selected works from Perry’s Môr Plastig series, in which he collects and forensically photographs plastic objects such as bottles, shoes and packaging washed up on the beaches of West Wales, inviting us to consider the environmental impact of consumerism and the erosive power of nature.
At the Venice Biennale 2015, as part of the Azerbaijan pavilion Vita Vitale, Perry installed a cabinet of plastiglomerates, stones comprising intermingled melted plastic, sand, shells and other beach sediment he had collected.
The objects appeared seamlessly integrated with our marine ecosystems, inviting us to consider the new materiality of our living realm and its technological capacities. Over the last five years, the artist has built up a large collection of these hybrid synthetic/natural objects and photographed them as single images often arranged in formal grids.
In his ongoing series Wet Deserts, Perry looks at the negative impact of monocultural land use and over-intensive cultivation, and the process of ‘re-wilding’ by which nature reclaims its biodiversity.
Responding to George Monbiot’s description of the rural landscape as a ‘shadowland, a dim flattened relic of what there once was’, Perry believes that years of an ‘agribusiness dominated dogma’ combined with unsustainable agricultural policy need to be challenged by new thinking around what is good for biodiversity, the planet, and the human spirit.
Using the formal language of 1960s/70s minimalism, Perry’s photography avoids the campaigning rhetoric of straight environmental documentary. Rather it poetically alludes to what we might be leaving for future generations, adding a contemporary narrative to minimalist abstraction.
The artist explains: “My intention is to reduce the objects to their pure formal states separating them for a moment from any meaning beyond their sculptural presence.
“I present the objects as grids or in line sequence emphasising the infinite choice offered by our consumer culture and to provide an aesthetic framework where colours and forms can work off each other”.
Ben Borthwick says: “Perry brings together two contrasting approaches to landscape to question how artists traditionally represented the sea and landscape.
“Large scale photographs allude to the sublime emptiness of traditional landscape painting, but highlight how these landscapes are the result of human mismanagement and economic exploitation.
“He channels the beach combing of so many coastal artists into the aesthetics of minimalism and conceptual art, replacing romanticism with scientific taxonomy.
“Plymouth is framed by the Atlantic on one side and Dartmoor on the other so this exhibition’s focus on the disastrous, but reversable, impacts of human activity on marine and upland environments is particularly relevant.”
Land/Sea (Tir/Môr) is a Ffotogallery Touring Exhibition, curated by Plymouth Arts Centre’s artistic director Ben Borthwick and David Drake, director, Ffotogallery.
A programme of Creative Learning activities will accompany the exhibition:
Family Workshop: Recycled Landscape Tuesday 30 May, 1:30-4:30pm, £5 per family Drawing from the compositions and textures featured in Mike Perry’s work, collaboratively create a large scale installation, made using mixed media.
Family Workshop: Lost and Found, Saturday 10 June, 1:30-4:30pm, £5 per family Life’s a beach….or is it? Children’s Art Week, in a one off sculptural workshop, to create your own dystopian landscape based on the photography work of Mike Perry.
(image: Môr Plastig Bottle Grid x 15)
(from a press release)