Tuesday, 20 November 2012

London Loves.....Akerman

        'See Perspective at the Elephant' by Jeremy Akerman 

"You should really pop in and see Jeremy's work, it's mind blowing" says Amalie Russell, owner and director of the Hardy Tree Gallery, in her endearing Canadian dialect. Her words did the trick because suddenly here I am, again, in this petite but enticing arts space cowering beside the hustle bustle of central London traffic and grime.

Russell (an artist herself) has managed, in a short space of time, to exhibit a diverse range of artists here, from local photographers, to audio-visualists accompanied by techno DJ sets, to Goldsmiths-trained bastions of that golden 1990s era of British art. Jeremy Akerman falls into the latter category, his skills honed at that grand old Deptford institution, he was in the year below the much celebrated Gary Hume. Having established himself as a curator as well as an artist in his own right he has returned from a residency in South Korea and produced a series of fantastic... photographs? ...paintings? I'm stuttering...."I call them mosaics". Yes, mosaics. Exactly.

Influenced by cubism, I at first assume these images, created with a cutting knife from huge photographs, to be the creation of a mathematical brain. They are, essentially, landscapes but the scenes depicted (parkland, churches and urban buildings photographed and enhanced to a smooth, colour-heightened "postcard like texture") have been painstakingly chopped into circular shapes and fragments and carefully rearranged across the artwork distorting the viewer's perception. Blowing your mind? Actually I rather felt them to be quite lulling. These are familiar images to me. A leafy Hampstead Heath, a concrete Aylesbury Estate in Elephant & Castle basking in the sun. Yet the contiginous circles, juxtaposed with a kind of precise anarchy in relation to one another "so that a piece of the top left of the scene can be seen right the way down in the bottom right", I found to be a transporter. Moving me from familiarity to a distant newly discovered place. 

             'Pleasurable Forest' by Jeremy Akerman

Good art should blend humour and seriousness, I have always thought, in order to bring real pleasure. The bruised gore of Francis Bacon for example has never been pleasing on my eye. Akerman here gives me what I want to see. Comedy and obfuscation amidst a quite serious point - that perception is everything and can be messed with. "The world is all around us and we are in it. It surrounds us and sometimes we effect it and sometimes it effects us". I ask whether he means this in a phenomenological sense and he half agrees. "Sometimes there are days when you trip over something and bump your head and coincidences happen. Somethings things just aren't quite physically right. Social study says things are 'all ok' [ordered and rational] and we start off from that perspective so as to make sense of them. But if you start off from a position of 'everything is not ok', like the Cubist movement did, then you reveal other things."

It's at this point that I make the enquiry as to whether Akerman is a former mathematician to which he laughs and says the pieces don't follow a geometric law. "It's more about perception than maths. I got a C at 'O' Level." This humours me intensely as I also got a C (at GCSE). I blame this on my flagrant truantism and Akerman and I briefly compete over who bunked off school more than the other. Kids these days can't bunk off we agree, everything's locked down. It turns out Ackerman's brother beat us both in bunking off. "One day our mother found him in the shed at the bottom of the garden. Turned out he'd been there most of the school year." I turn to Russell to assess her absentiesm credentials but she, charmingly though somewhat embarrassed, reveals she was something of a swot at school (a NERD in Canadian). Akerman's girlfriend Anne Odling-Smee, here to accompany him on a drive down to Brighton, was also a straight A student. When I mention my mother's recent move to the south coast, Bexhill-on-sea it turns out she worked as a designer on the refurbishment of the grand art deco De La Warr Pavilion on Bexhill promenade. (Small world, and something I should revisit in future blogs.)

             'perspective4' by Jeremy Akerman

Having touched on his early family life, Akerman reveals the shed his brother bunked off in was in the garden of their vicarage home. He is in fact the son of a vicar. While his brother rejected faith and eyes it with suspicion ("he felt let down and you don't want to hear the words 'God will never let you down' when he already has let you down") Akerman is much more exploratory around the subject. "The church is the base of almost every bit of art history we know of" he says. He finds churches fascinating, but in several of his pieces, including the one above, the central round 'eyes' appear. "People's eyes generate a kind of chaos theory. Not chaos theory but a distortion of order. This notion of the eyes focusing in the centre is me trying to eliminate myself, if you emptied yourself out and tried to see yourself you might end up looking like that", he says pointing at the image.

His father, the vicar, was buried in a church later burnt down and its ruins had to be supported by scaffolding erected around the church to stop it collapsing in on itself. Clearly prime fodder for a cut up, heavily dissected colourful mosaic. One which means a lot to Akerman clearly, but one that - as art should - laces the seriousness of morbidity, love and death with a comic touch.

He wastes no opportunity to reference Simone Weil as his chief theological influence - observations that go somewhat over my ill educated head - but his serious approach to "pushing perspective to an absurdity" is reflected mostly in his discussions of the meanings around God, belief and art. Looking at the church pieces he describes, perhaps sarcastically a "highway to the heavens" and that the relationship to space in a church always comes back to this visual idea. When I ask if he believes in God he tells me "it's not about belief, it's just there. I grew up in my father's vicarage so it's just there. As a believer and a liberal you're more promiscuous than athiests. You get to explore so much more without shutting yourself off". Somehow I believe him. 

Rowan Williams, somebody he also respects as a theologian lifted Weil's idea of abandoment for his own writing. "The notion that when that God has abandoned his creation you move into another space. God's tactical withdrawal sucks people towards him into the vacuum created. Heidegger said what attracts us is that which calls to us. It calls and we go towards it. It's like creating art in the studio, something calls you and you go to it and bask in it for a while."

He says this while we look at his rendition of the Aylesbury Estate teetering on the brink of visual collapse while the wasteland foreground glistens like sand on a French beach. Then he says I should come and see his studio in Brockley some time.

And by God, I just might!

Jeremy Akerman's 'The Stream Will Soon Renew Its Smoothness' exhibtion is on at the Hardy Tree Gallery, Pancras Road until 25th November