In April I visited the opening of my friend, artist and fellow MAFA student Alice Morey at her solo exhibition She doesn’t love, she just devours at the Ryder Projects in Bethnal Green (link to website here). I’ve been interested in Morey’s work since getting to know her and her practice over the past seven or eight months; she stuck out to me from the first day as an artist with irrepressible energy to voice her strong, singular point of view on sexuality, mortality and the grotesque.
I enjoyed that all the works in the exhibition were pieces Morey had made during our MA, many of which I had witnessed the creation of while working together on the same exhibition or project, so I felt I had a privileged, unique personal connection to the show, something that doesn’t happen very often.
Viewing all these disparate works together, the porcelain craniums and chains, the yoghurt and charcoal paintings/drawings, the urine bags and pheasants, gave me the pleasing sensation of being immersed in the artist’s mind and understanding human experience through her touch.
Indeed I feel that the sense of touch is key in Morey’s work. The presence of her hands are everywhere, in charcoal fingerprints and marks left in clay, and these touches provide a consistency among the varied media of the works. As an extension of the sense of touch, the primacy of drawing and the drawn line is evident, even when drawn using clay, blood or woven strings, or ink tattooed directly onto the canvas. She is an artist who thinks through touch, understands through drawing, and the tactile quality, the human-print of her hand is the main consistent element through the works, including her performance of preparing a pheasant carcass for consumption.
In this way all of Morey’s work is performative, and so the inclusion of the sculptures and paintings in the Ryder Projects’ space is justified, as the gallery generally solely focus on contemporary performance art. The rawness of Morey’s touch and delicacy of her drawn lines echo nicely against the industrial concrete and brick interior of the gallery, bringing the delicate, organic textures of feathers, charcoal and porcelain into greater prominence.
Though Morey’s work is darkly humorous (a gif of a rainbow heart spinning on a screen by a jar with a real rotting animal heart) there is underneath an earnest drive, laced with pathos, to heal, re-animate, transform the corpses Morey incorporates into her sculptures. The reincarnation of these bodies can take the form of turning a dead thing into a meal to provide life and sustenance in a ritualistic performance, or hanging pheasant skins in the air in a pastiche of ‘birds in flight’, or using coloured water or blood pumping through deconstructed anatomies to create a rudimentary nervous or arterial system.
There is a sense of a futile effort: trying to make amends, to affirm that death is not the end but part of a metamorphosis, to correct wrongs and resuscitate the dead that should be alive. There is an animistic attempt to provide souls to the soulless. Though Morey’s work uses dead bodies or bone-like porcelain objects in her work, I don’t see the work as being primarily about death but actually about sexuality; she uses images of death to talk about life, connection, regeneration and joy.
This method obviously ends up with the creation of grotesque bodies, and the interplay between internal and external surfaces of the body is apparent: what should be inside and unseen is brought out to the open, deconstructed, played with. The sensuality of touch, the energy of the interconnecting surfaces, the sculptures hooked, tied, sewn, chained together, shows a determination to believe in the transformative potential of love, physical love.
This is a raw, animalistic drive that connects consciousness between life forms from humans to bacteria to birds to pigs, expressing the relationship to a post-humanist ideology in Morey’s world, an environment that generates connections between the dead and the living, the natural and the artificial, the human and the animal, the real and the virtual. Hers is an environment in which there is no hierarchy of the value of these consciousnesses or connections but a celebration of the fact that these connections exist at all.
The underlying impulse to connect is tempered by the title of the exhibition, a cynical statement: ‘She doesn’t love, she just devours’. Who is the ‘she’ that doesn’t love? It can’t be the artist. I think that Morey does love, and loves deeply, but she creates creatures that devour; either the artworks devour themselves through decay or disintegration, or they require so many resources (air, water, electricity, slime) to keep them ‘alive’ that they are impossible to sustain: fountains doomed to dry up, porcelain fated to break, screens reliant on batteries, inflatables that inevitably leak and fail.
In Morey’s world the twin desires of loving (sex) and devouring (death) become so intertwined that perhaps in this landscape to love is to devour; to give life is to die; to create is to destroy; to purify is to corrupt. This reference to purity, or rebirth, appears time and time again in Morey’s titles and imagery; she attempts to make dead things pure and new again, but creates more corruption in the process. A clear example of this symbolism is the performance ‘Pure’ in which the artist made a pheasant stew, gutting and dismembering the bird from start to finish. Wearing a perfect white costume, Morey made a point of wiping her bloody hands on her clothes so that the white fabric became soiled with gore. Thus the aspiration for purity is always followed with corruption; but the determination to push through the corruption, to transcend, to persist, to keep loving, is the element that finally provides the piece with its purity: it’s a performance that brings people together, that nourishes and heals, that forges connections, and makes a moment sacred.