‘To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Macbeth Act 5, scene 5
I ‘know’ what I’m looking at, in so much that I ‘know’ the detailed imagery from which these works are composed. I can name each component part, each device employed in the pieces, yet there is so much more to these works; this is not an exercise in mere academic taxonomy.
I do not know what they mean, if they ‘mean’ anything at all. They are the very essence of the Rumsfeldian ‘known-unknown’. I believe I know what I feel when I contemplate the works before me, yet my thoughts are myriad, often beyond rational ordering, let alone description. These are enigmatic paradoxes, beautifully constructed, which belie a Gordian knot level of complexity.
Michael Lacey exhibited at Output Gallery in December 2018 (Editor’s note: sorry for the delay!). Output is the brainchild of Gabrielle de la Puente, (one half of The White Pube), and what the venue lacks in space it makes up for in ambition. Since its inception last year, Kazimier attaché Output has already shown a handful of exhibitions, film screenings and is currently hosting work by Turner Prize winner Mark Leckey. It is a rare example of a critic actually practicing what she preaches, by allowing individuals and groups to ‘pitch’ for a show at cyclical Input events. Such an egalitarian approach is long overdue and cultural ‘institutions’ should take heed.
Lacey’s show at Output was an opportunity to encounter an artist whose enchanting images offer beguiling, ambiguous meaning – the futility of human endeavour is one message (among the multitude that may be drawn). His collages conjure up a dystopian post-human world in which the ruins of a wretched ‘civilization’ are as the bare bones of a corpse picked over by the seagulls.
If the architect of megalomania Albert Speer was to be believed, a civilization could be judged by its ruins, and what ruins Lacey offers us! Channelling Bruegel’s Tower of Babel in addition to the surreal creations of Terry Gillam, the fantastical citadels of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Warhammer 40000 and the uneasy architectural scenes of De Chirico, Lacey’s works are best considered as a series, each echoing yet subtlety distancing themselves from one another.
His employment of collage is not the haphazard biographical account of Picasso’s detritus ‘found objects’; rather it owes more to Richard Hamilton’s careful selection and construction of a composition. The result is a series of canvasses whose flatness brings their immediacy to the spectators’ attention and whose surface details are intricate ocular delights.
In Empty Parade, a mixture of Gothic and Baroque architecture inhabits a landscape, or is rather fixed into three cliff faces, embellished with antique classical figurative and equestrian sculpture which suggests the Herculean effort of a hubristic society, like the Moai of Rapa Nui. Devoid of any living creature, save a lone gull, the stillness is palpable.
A House for Arnold Bocklin is a similar exercise in channelling the romantic sublime of ruins, but the artist is no foppish melancholic. Rather the Doric columns supporting a lintel frames the entrance to a cave, a gateway to Pluto’s realm perhaps, or a Bosch’s Hell mouth devoid of demons? The unsettling addition of a modern observatory perhaps suggests a more recent occupant – could this be the home of Dr Moreau? The sheep and chimera (Matthew Barney’s short Cremaster 4?), hint it could be, a place in which the sole occupant may exist in parallel both as Alpha male and Omega man.
Foreman, Squire, Bagman, Fool, echoes Caspar David Friedrich’s interest with cemeteries, though Lacey alludes to something beyond his German predecessor’s interest in ancient tombs. Here four Morris dancers half-heartedly ‘perform’ among abandoned tombstones whilst a bare ancient oak dominates the background. Are they desperately re-enacting some ancient rite to beyond exhaustion? Or are they seeking to raise the spirits of the dead, though not very successfully? Whilst Matisse’s Dance brought a sense of energy and vitality to modern figurative work does Michael offer us a vision of the Brexiteers’ wet dreams, Merry Olde England v.2? This is both brilliantly bonkers and fundamentally disturbing.
Portal is a work one cannot help feel is oddly out of place in this sequence. It feels more appropriate to either begin or to end the show with this work. The titular Portal suggests a beginning or an end as it hovers, (or is it suspended?), over a sublime landscape of snow-capped alpine mountains. Are we being drawn towards it or ejected from it? Are we being observed or are we to observe through it? Is this Portal a divine orifice, a Gilliam-like ‘God’s anus’, from which creation is evacuated? This work also seems to owe much to David Lynch, yet it is all Lacey’s.
The lack of surface depth brings an immediacy to Michael’s work; superficial in composition, but not in meaning. His skies are a study in blankness, from which there are no giveaways, save an unsettling nothingness. Each work contains multiple messages, which may have been wholly overlooked in favour of one’s own intellectual perambulations. Kudos to him.
Ed Montana-Williams wrestles with demons in between planning downfalls
Michael Lacey exhibited at OUTPUT 6 – 16 December 2018.