PM/AM is pleased to present Harmonic Distortion, an exhibition of new work by the British artist Mat Chivers, his first solo show in London in more than five years. Chivers’s presentation uses a range of media to explore relationships between environmental phenomena, the fundamental materials that constitute the world, and the contemporary production technologies that we use to understand and interact with them. Harmonic Distortion is comprised of an eponymous series of large-scale sculptures, a further series of wall-based works, and a performative piece inspired by Shibari, a ritualised form of rope bondage that will incorporate drawing and original music.
The Harmonic Distortion works are large-scale sculptures that are formed from solid blocks of alternately black and white sections of marble. The patterns have a binary, pixel-like quality that alludes to how information is processed and transmitted digitally. The ‘source code’, as such, of these works are sets of data relating to the physics of wave and cloud formations, which have been cut into variations of the monochromatic marble blocks using robotic milling technology. The forms have been adapted from the cycles of a breaking wave, and from three-dimension data of a cumulus cloud supercell forming and disintegrating over time, which was captured by a meteorological balloon over the Congo Basin in Central Africa.
Whilst a weighty, seemingly earth-bound material, the origins of marble are paradoxically bound to the ocean and the myriad ecologies and lifeforms it supports. Marble is a metamorphic limestone formed from the calcium-rich exoskeletons of ocean dwelling invertebrates that have sunk to the seabed and been subjected to intense heat and pressure, a process which produces the solid stone. As such, marble is embedded within a conception of materials that transcends human comprehension and facility. After the initial robotic milling process, the sculptures are further formed by hand, a confluence of the digitality of their source data and the sensuality of materials that is writ in the artistic history of marble.
The black and white patterns of the sculptures are determinately geometric; however, the forms themselves are fluid and subject to the shifting interpretations of visual perception. Much like Bridget Riley’s dizzying Op Art canvases in the 1960s, they are mesmerising, and effect an ambiguous quality to the works as their forms are illusionistically eroded by the potent geometry of the base material. This perceptual phenomenon acts as a metaphor for our contemporary digital moment, reflecting how technology gives us a way of seeing impossible elements in the world but simultaneously fragments it, leaving us unable to describe the totality of the relationships involved.
(It’s Not) Black & White are a series of six wall-based works, each of which are titled after various global locations, for example, two works are named after the threatened ecosystems of Brazil and the Galapagos Islands, and further relate to wave and cloud data sets. Yearly graphs of ocean wave heights from these locations have been milled into slabs of cast sea-salt recycled from desalination plants. The data range is from the first year during which accurate measurements of wave heights started to be taken by scanning orbital satellites, and transmitted back to earth, up to the present day.
Ocean swells are driven by low and high pressure atmospheric events (storm cells), which are themselves a result of thermal flux in global ocean currents. Wave height data is a key marker for understanding how climate change may be affecting extreme weather events – in these works, Chivers records global meteorological instability in geometric form. Further works in this series are digital visualisations of cyanotype prints, created by layering graphs which articulate the presence or absence of cloud cover for the various locations over light-sensitive paper, and exposing them to sunlight. The works reveal the tendency towards decreasing cloud cover, hence increased solar radiation reflection, symptomatic of climate shift and global warming.
A major component of the exhibition is the performance work Circle Drawing, influenced by Shibari, a traditional Japanese form of ritualised erotic bondage in which a power exchange is enacted between the person being bound and the one binding (the Kinbakushi). Natural jute ropes are used to reform and accentuate aspects of the body of the tied individual, often leading to the body being suspended above the ground in a contorted posture using a network of weaves and knots. This particular work presents us with two female Shibari practitioners, in a piece whereby rope is replaced with the same fiber optic cabling that is used to transmit information by global digital networks.
Over a period of time, the Kinbakushi binds her partner, slowly elevating her from the floor, to suspension just above the ground. As the receiver is bound, she attempts to draw a circle on the floor with a piece of raw ochre pigment. This task becomes increasingly difficult as the performance progresses, distorting the shape of the circle. A live sound work developed in collaboration with renowned producer Moiré, underpins the physical events as they unfold. Circle Drawing hinges upon the contradictions of the human condition and the entanglements of contemporary life, both the opportunities and limitations that our increasing reliance on technology present: metaphors abound between freedom and bondage, environment and technology, communication and networks.
Harmonic Distortion examines the environmental data of shifts in cloud and wave cycles as signifiers of our precarious contemporary moment. Together with the water cycle, and its role as the essential life force, these phenomena have archetypal status for human beings and our very existence. In the age of the Anthropocene, Chivers suggests, it is more important than ever to retain a sensual relationship with the world and its materials.