BY Declan Sheehan in Reviews | 10 SEP 00
Featured in
Issue 54

Locky Morris

Context Gallery, Derry, Ireland

BY Declan Sheehan in Reviews | 10 SEP 00

Life in Northern Ireland now feels a little disjointed, as if it's vainly seeking some kind of restitution or licking its wounds after - in Beckett's words - 'the calamity of yesterday'. In any period of transition, histories - personal or otherwise - remain irredeemably part of us. Such pressures bear down on the present: there's a prevailing cultural imperative for either lamentation or memento mori, or, alternatively, a yearning for a kind of 'All's for the best in this best of all possible worlds' utopian reconstruction. But lamentation is such an onerous, inhibiting activity. Previously, Locky Morris has reacted and referred explicitly to the Derry and Northern Irish 'situation' (the 'war', and the 'troubles') in his work: testimonials created contemporaneously with events, and in situ, most famously in Comm (1992) at the Cornerhouse and Comm II (1994) at the Orchard Gallery. Recent years saw him putting art aside to concentrate on music, with his band Rare. Recently, he has once again begun making and exhibiting art.

'The Work of a Dog' was Morris' first solo exhibition in several years. The three works in the show revealed the influence of his the time he spent not making art: a kind of shrug of the shoulders, a thin smile, a blank stare, the dilemma of squinting at the glare of the past. Each work apprehended liminal points, like little shrines of belief in small religions of transformation. Their scale is important, the determining element in a facade of insignificance that masks, and so contributes potency to, the dark wit and frustrated ambition which lends the work authority. Itch (1999), is a jewel-like fiction machine, a display of the scratchings from a lottery scratch-card, which lie in a tiny sand-papered depression on a plinth, the small dome of a magnifier set above it. Through the lens, the vision is of a magnified crystal blue and silver mountain range, a chance Romantic miniature of the sublime. Glaringly mundane, each scratch represents an easing of the itch, the small irritant that says 'why not me', the tiniest chance that this could be the instant around which one's life turns, never the same again, and so deserving of it all. Narratives of lives, dreams and futures are imagined around what they conceal. Religiosity (faith and shrine) in this context is blatant.

The cerebral ambition and glory of Itch was tempered by the tangible physicality of the work Up to a Hundred (2000). Its sense of physical effort filled the gallery space, and even filtered out beyond the entrance: the sound from a speaker of an 18 minute loop of the artist's repeated attempts at keeping a football in the air for up to 100 kicks. The speaker was attached to the gallery wall, a battered old football perched on top of it. Like a gym left dank with the smell of male sweat, a palpable effort had taken place - but to what consequence? Individual histories lie behind the work: the artist's retreat from and then return to art; his adolescent football prowess; a familiar story of a skill that led to nothing. All activities are conceivably absurd, without a manifest result or tangible worth. The palpable effort of the physical and the intangible process behind the cerebral sat uneasily together, but the unease had the merit of stripping the other bare in its gaze.

The title piece, The Work of a Dog (2000), seemed to function as a resolution to the enquiry - effort vs faith - which raged quietly throughout the exhibition. Little bits of a chewed superball lay scattered on a small shelf; next to it, a set of headphones played a looped recording of the huffs and puffs of a tired dog. The transparent bits of the superball glimmered, translucent and gently dazzling, under a spotlight - tawdry, mundane objects, transformed into art works by the grace of conviction, trust