BY Colin Darke in Reviews | 06 SEP 94
Featured in
Issue 18

Locky Morris

BY Colin Darke in Reviews | 06 SEP 94

The political and spiritual leaders of Ireland are in a bit of a flap. Our marriages are breaking up or we're not marrying in the first place. We're having babies when we shouldn't or we're not having babies when we should. Sex has become an act of pleasure and we're doing it with all the wrong people. In response to this perceived threat to the moral agenda, the far right has moved further to the right and the not-quite-so-right are on the whole letting them get on with it.

Nowhere is the family considered to be a more necessary ingredient of civilised life, and the southern state, having been forced to make (very small) concessions on issues of abortion and homosexuality, is happy to watch anti-abortion and anti-gay campaigners continue their activities. In the north, abortion remains illegal and women are subject to Britain's current spate of legislation attacking women. The churches in Ireland, north and south, Protestant and Catholic, are at the centre of the new moral crusade.

Locky Morris' installation, Comm II (1994), explores the reality of the state/sexuality conflict with a simplicity and eloquence which will come as no small surprise to those familiar with the stridency of his previous sculpture. The 'comm' in the title refers to Republican prisoners' letters ('comm' being an abbreviation of 'communication'), written on toilet paper or cigarette papers in tiny writing, wrapped in cling film and hidden in the mouth. They are passed to visitors through a kiss. As the majority of prisoners' visitors would be family members, the intimacy of this act is doubly subversive.

In Comm, the prequel to the Orchard piece shown at Manchester's Cornerhouse, Morris constructed from toilet paper and cling film pairs of giant pink tongues French kissing against the gallery wall. Their large scale transformed them into human bodies writhing in sexual frenzy. But with Comm II, we are no longer voyeurs at the orgy, but are invited to join in. The tongues have gone, dissolved into the fabric of the wall. The cling film is now scrunched, burned and flattened in layers over the entire surface of the main wall of the central gallery, effectively transforming it into one giant comm. The layering of the plastic gives it a pink sheen and the lighting makes it glisten like moist flesh. This is seriously sexy stuff and we are drawn to it, finding ourselves prodding and caressing.

But in the end the hint of sexual liberation offered by a plastic wall only makes us all the more aware of our alienation in the real world and our discomfort is heightened by our knowledge of the work's incestuous source. It is this implied incest which most succinctly challenges state ideology. The unacceptability of inter-family sexual practice has been a constant, in varying forms, throughout all the stages of historical development, hitting hard as it does at the rules of 'normality' designed by state and church to protect the family unit from any deviation from its desired form. The mouth-to-mouth passing of comms shows how the families of prisoners, when placed in crisis through an antagonistic relationship with the state, can break down its sexual morality in the interests of true family unity. Morris, then, is not advocating incest as a practice, or even commenting on it as such, but taking it as a metaphor for the nature of the political reality of the north of Ireland.

Facing this wall, Morris has filled the negative space of two entrances with the same cling film, closing off the remainder of the gallery. The locking of these doors takes us out of the visitors' room and into the cell itself. The irregular burning of the plastic stretches and blackens certain areas, thus introducing a further reference - to the 'dirty protest'. The image of the faeces-smeared walls of Long Kesh and Armagh both complements and contradicts the original metaphor.

What was at first physically attractive has now become repugnant. The act of surrounding oneself with one's own excrement can hardly be anything else. But just as the pleasure derived from this piece was checked by our moral and sexual alienation, so then our distaste of the dirty protest is transformed into admiration for those who find the courage to carry it out. When Richard Hamilton tackled the subject in The Citizen (1982-83), his disinterested, clinical approach missed the point. Comm II has put the record straight.

Locky Morris has shaken off the overtly propagandist motifs of his earlier work - gone are the Land Rovers, helicopters and dustbin lids. His art has consequently leapt from crude polemic to subtle and incisive critique. The simultaneous attraction and repulsion of Comm II pushes and pulls us into re-evaluating the nature of our own oppression, our relationship with the state and our place within history.