Claire Morgan’s delicate sculptural installations manage to achieve that very rarest of things – an alteration of our vision onto the world. Her work presents us with a disturbing liminal point in time where the open flow of natural life has been arrested and closed down into a moment of suspended dead time. Petrified animals populate this liminal threshold, haunting the periphery of our own familiar world with a measureless physical presence and stillness. These avatars from the closed realm of nature are brought into the visibility of our world and are coaxed into speaking our language.
Morgan’s powerful work has the capacity to solicit a necessary confrontation with our established ways of being towards and thinking about the very source of our cultural dwelling – the earth and nature. This engagement with nature is staged through a careful consideration of natural rhythms and cycles, and a rigorous handling of familiar organic material. By means of an almost taxonomic suspension of both natural and artificial matter, the work presents an ambitious appeal for an urgent renegotiation of our relationship to the earth. The chaos of nature becomes subject to an almost parodic sense of surgical control, constraint, balance and geometric form, serving to dramatically display man’s increasingly disastrous calculative efforts to dominate and utilise the earth on which they dwell through reason, technology and culture. In the midst of such utilitarian calculation and control over the natural environment Morgan forces us to question again our most basic and fundamental orientation towards the very source of our life and being. By freezing the ongoing flow of life Morgan is forcing us to open our vision to a state of emergency, and address the question of our origins in the
desperate hope of averting a catastrophe to come. Morgan’s sculptural material is ordinary, familiar and
everyday, but is transfigured through the rigour of formal composition into becoming resonant with a mysterious melancholic power that allows it to be unfamiliar to us again. The significance of Morgan’s transfiguration of material is crucial in understanding the capacity of her work to address vital questions of our relation to the earth. At the peripheral zone between incommensurable realms these sculptures stage a dramatic and conflictual encounter between culture and nature. The question is how the work works, how to begin to understand its melancholic resonance, its capacity to arrest and unsettle our sense of the familiar, and posit a necessary renegotiation of the relationship between culture and nature. One way of approaching an understanding is to consider the two different types of matter present in the sculptures and to contemplate the two different realms associated with these materials. In her sculptures there is material which belongs to the Earth (birds and animals, leaves, seeds, fruit), and others which belong to the cultural realm, which are manmade and artificial (plastic debris and nylon). Through these different materials Morgan is able to stage a conflicting encounter between two realms, between earth and natural realm and man’s economic and cultural world.
There is a productive quality associated with this conflict when it is staged in a work of art. Surely it is the strife between incommensurable realms which allows the work of art to become a privileged symbolic realm for opening contemplation of the truth and our place in Being. As the philosopher Martin Heidegger once wrote, it is art which initially allows the natural things of the earth to ‘enter into their distinctive shapes and thus come to appear as what they are.’ Art is the way in which we initially negotiate our understanding of and relationship to the mysteries of nature on the earth. The artwork is an object which opens up a cultural world to us, which manifests cultural meaning in its composition and form thereby rendering ourselves visible to ourselves in the midst of our ordinary and familiar ways of being-in-the-world. The realm of nature is brought into view through the material which is being used in setting up the composed world of the artwork, be it stone, wood, bone or pigment.
The artwork causes the different materials of the earth to come forth into the open region of its world, where
it is subject to an approximate understanding, where a relationship to the earth and nature is in the process of being formulated and articulated. However, as Heidegger recognised, the earth is never actually fully revealed in
such instances, it is merely brought into visibility in its essential non-visibility, in its ongoing mystery and concealment. What is significant is precisely how the artwork originally negotiates and sets forth a relationship to the natural realm which is incommensurable to human world of meaning and culture. The artwork appears to instantiate a strange liminal time of the in-between, characterised by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. The earth and nature remain impenetrable and the most successful and significant artworks are precisely those that seek to preserve that impenetrability, making it present and visible in an artwork as an essentially mysterious, indeterminate and concealed realm. Morgan’s work contains precisely such an attempt to bring forth and render visible the closed realm of nature. Here, liminality is presented as a state of transition. Our normative state of being is arrested and interrupted – such a situation can lead to the opening of our vision and the generation of new perspectives. However, in her work this realm is shown as being systematically threatened, and the sculptures present an implicit critique of the contemporary world. Here the human world is presented as having gone catastrophically awry with regard to its relation to the natural world. The artificial plastic and nylon material present in the artwork (which are utilised to construct and elaborate their precisely assembled forms in space) cannot but evoke the sterile and poisoning interventions of man upon the earth, both in a real and metaphorical sense; these are substances which cannot decompose and be transformed within the rhythms of natural time being used to reify and immobilise the flow of nature. These artificial materials are used by Morgan to surgically suspend, surround and capture the natural materials of the earth, to halt their descent. Her sculptures carefully and deliberately measure this natural matter into constrained and petrified cubes, rectangles and oblongs. Our disastrous cultural relationship to nature and the earth in all its fragmentary glory is dramatically emphasised and parodied by this almost machinic and serial formation of organic matter within the sculptures. Petrified animals are arranged in delicate lines of flight, tumbling in a geometrical descent upon the meticulously assembled pieces of transparent nylon thread. These strangely frozen animal bodies stand at the periphery of painstakingly constructed geometric clouds of consumerist detritus and function as melancholic spectral messengers. They appear trapped, seized, manipulated and controlled. Yet the natural material continues to convey a powerful sense of mystery despite such calculated constraint and formal immobility. Indeed, paradoxically Morgan’s rigorous and surgical treatment of this material serves only to set forth the mysterious weight of the presence of nature into the visible and affective realm that much more powerfully.
Beyond the established everyday nature of contemporary existence, where the earth has become stratified and arrogantly exploited by calculative technology, Morgan’s work, like Beuys’ work before her, demonstrates that there is still something else that happens. The possibility of social renewal and a healing of our fractured relationship to nature are offered by this work, despite the horror of a seemingly inevitable and impending catastrophe. In the midst of our world her work arrests the contemporary time of impending catastrophe and opens a liminal time of possibility and renewal. The time opened by her work allows for renewed questioning, understanding, and contemplation to occur. It is perhaps only such a liminal time that can enable and allow us the necessary passage back to those beings that we ourselves are not, and access to the being that we ourselves are, and might yet become. This is art which offers us the hope of a passage back to the origin of things.