Karl Vickers:
Publicly-Funded Minerals

An old photograph of a shoreline scene, with a ship docked close to the land. Bulbous shapes have been collaged onto the image.
Karl Vickers, On the Rocks, 2019 ©the artist

Publicly-Funded Minerals is an extraordinary set of forty-eight photo-collages by Karl Vickers, hand-assembled from twentieth century magazines, newspapers, postcards and other ephemera. Supersized minerals and crystals have been (re)envisioned as in-situ monuments in a variety of souvenir-postcard mise-en-scenes to create surreal, sculptural dreamscapes.

On show at Assembly House[1] as part of Index Festival, a fringe programme of events and exhibitions accompanying Yorkshire Sculpture International this summer. The work feels at home here, mapped out across one long wall, alongside unused images and scraps from the making process. It’s raw around the edges, like an authentic ‘found’ text – a common trope in science fiction– and looks like an unrealised master-plan unearthed from the archive. It is a fantastical work-in-progress, a (re)imagining of a pre-Millennium retro-future, a grand Utopian scheme dreamed up by the Futurists, JG Ballard and the Wizard of Oz.

Crystals hold potency in many cultures’ histories and myths, often seen as ultimate sources of energy or power. Vickers plays into these narratives by implying these minerals chose him as their conduit: a group forming ‘without [his] consent’ to create the work. For analogue photo-collage requires both a methodical and a spontaneous approach to archival imagery, embracing chance encounters and happy accidents to make impossible visions crystallise in front of our eyes.

An image of a national park with sand and water. Collaged into the image is a large silver metal structure, giving the impression of a building or a spaceship just landed.

Karl Vickers, At Band-e Amir National Park, Afghanistan, 2019 ©the artist

The photo-collage pieces are small-scale and require you to get up close. When you do, you are well rewarded. Colours are rich, Technicolor-faded, sepia, grainy, tinted; the paper shiny, rough, texturised, creased. Imperfect and tactile, you can feel the grain, the layers of print, slabs of time converging on the page, almost-but-not-quite flattened in the hybrid image.  The simple riff of simultaneously blowing up (gigantism) and shrinking down (miniaturisation) played on repeat, succeeds in creating a dioramic universe with a strange internal logic. We suspend disbelief: these ‘timesculptures’[2] start to feel real. This is how crystals grow in real life; they construct themselves via repeated molecular patterning, colonising atoms from the environment around them.

An image of a historic town square, with red gemstones collaged onto the central fountain.

Karl Vickers, In the Town Square, 2019 ©the artist

There is an uncanny foreboding that permeates the provincial settings, like a scene from Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids[3]. ‘In the Park’ shows pigeons gathering around giant prismatic shards of topaz, while ‘In the Town Square’ locates two monumental red slabs of toxic, mercury-rich cinnabar in place of a war memorial. ‘On the Rocks’ is reminiscent of a Ballardian short story, innocent tourists flocking to see a strange globular cluster that has emerged from the sea overnight.

‘At the Airport’ and ‘As seen from The Eiffel Tower, Paris’, depict giant minerals as natural extensions of modernist city architecture. The humans look like ants – architects of grand public schemes often thought about spectacle, but not necessarily people. ‘At the Dam’ continues the 1950s B-movie alien invasion: bulbous, pulsating forms, frozen in time, burst from the innards of our planet. An infection in the very fabric of the earth, they recall the beautiful and terrible disease in Ballard’s The Crystal World[4] that crystallises, suffocates and embalms all living things in its path.

A sepia tone image of a dam, with round bulbous forms collaged onto where the water would normally flow down.

Karl Vickers, At the Dam, 2019 ©the artist

Monolithic minerals also appear in big landscape. In ‘At Stonehenge’ and ‘At The Mountain-Temple Of Bakheng, Cambodia’, they materialise like avatars of long forgotten deities. The translucent crystals that emerge in the desert in ‘At Band-e Amir National Park, Afghanistan’ and near bodies of water in ‘At the Waterfalls’, reflect and enhance the natural beauty of their surroundings. In these images, the grand crystalline forms rise up from the earth towards heaven like shining beacons of optimism and hope; think Superman’s Fortress of Solitude [5] and Dorothy’s Emerald City.[6]

Publicly-Funded Minerals is a small show, but it’s incredibly rich. Vickers asks us to (re)enter the past, into a set of ideas, aesthetics and anxieties particular to the twentieth century, and in doing so, to imagine different pasts and alternative futures for our world, the Earth.

Publicly-Funded Minerals, Assembly House, Leeds, 5 July 2019 – 29 September 2019.


To find out what else is happening as part of Index visit: https://indexfestival.org/

Joanna Byrne is a filmmaker, photographer, writer and creative educator based in Leeds.

[1][1] Founded in 2015, Assembly House is an artist-led gallery and studios based in Armley, Leeds, that supports emerging artists through funded opportunities, affordable space, exhibitions and events https://www.assemblyhouse.art/

[2][2] J.G. Ballard, 1963. ‘Time, Memory and Inner Space’. The Woman Journalist Magazine. https://www.jgballard.ca/non_fiction/jgb_time_memory_innerspace.html

[3][3] John Wyndham, 1951. Day of the Triffids. London: Penguin.

[4][4] J. G. Ballard, 1966. The Crystal World. London: Jonathan Cape.

[5][5] Superman, 1978. Directed by Richard Donner.

[6][6]The Wizard of Oz, 1939. Directed by Victor Fleming.

Published 27.07.2019 by Holly Grange in Reviews

808 words