Harrison Pearce - Exhibition Text
Originally published to accompany Harrison Pearce’s solo exhibition ‘Auto Soma’ at Mou Projects (Hong Kong, 6th May - 10th June)
May 2023

A permanent fixture in Harrison Pearce’s practice, and one that attests to a particularly formative moment in the artist’s personal life, is the presence of platinum-white amorphous manifestations, appearing variously as both sculptural spheroids and painted protuberant apparitions. Their origin story, if you will, extends back to when a pre-artist Pearce studying philosophy of mind was simultaneously and somewhat ironically discovered to possess a peculiar brain mutation. In the subsequent years spent processing the immediate medical repercussions, as well as pondering the pertinent philosophical ramifications, Pearce embraced uncertainty and abandoned analytic academia for art-making, aided by a three-dimensional scan of his cerebral malformation that continues to underpin the aforementioned excrescences. Over time, as witnessed in this latest body of work, presented at Mou Projects, these mercurial mutations have themselves evolved beyond elucidation, now existing akin to a MacGuffin - that characteristically Hitchcockian conceit which promotes an object as being key to the progression of the plot, without itself necessarily being the principal protagonist.

And so, in the artist’s latest kinetic and sonic sculptural installation - currently on display at Mou Projects in Hong Kong - we find the biomorphic motif adopting technological augmentation, their usual supple surface hardened to house a series of speakers, as though connected straight to the brain stem. Their frailty is still foregrounded, however, as each is nestled within its own clam-shell casing, inspired by Celtic stone-carved amulets, mediaeval armoured helm, sand-cast automobile engine blocks, Isamu Noguchi’s brief dip into baby monitor design and retrofuturist Iron Giant-esque paranoid androids. Displaying a skeuomorphic sentimentality and nostalgic acknowledgement of the industrial revolutions - those seismic shifts in production capabilities that first introduced mass manufacturing, digital electronics and now post-humanist procedures such as artificial intelligence - Pearce’s aesthetic distils elements from all four, and speculatively reflects on how such advancements inevitably end in the conflation of the physical, digital and biological worlds.

Pearce, alongside collaborator and contrabassoonist Thomas Stone, has composed a four-channel operatic oratorio to be performed by the assembled sculptural sirens. With their carapace craniums opening and closing - sometimes synchronously, often independently - a clearly conversational chorus erupts. Distorted humming lingers in the background, the result of capturing the physical vibrations that occur when a speaker is placed face down on a snare drum. The ventriloquist vocalists jostle for attention, crying out as if in search of something before being interrupted by another, over-eager android accompanist. The popping of pneumatic valves punctuates the pathos, as the congregation continues their wailed warning, their listless lament.

The impossibility of accurately choreographing the kinetic troupe, human error here replaced with an unpredictability inherent within any engineered system, imbues the automaton orchestra with an animated anthropomorphism only aided by their unique physiognomic appearances. Neither fully figurative nor entirely abstract, they engage empathy and present as individual characters, not caricatures. Capable of conveying grief, guilt, fear, frustration, longing and loneliness, whilst also demonstrating eccentric comic timing during the installation’s abrupt ending, when Pearce’s performers power-down reminiscent of a funfair animatronic ensemble at rest, awaiting another inserted dollar for coin-slotted activation.

Pneumatics, the compression or pressurisation of air, could be considered Pearce’s primary artistic tool, powering not only Stone’s contrabassoon and the overall sculptural performance but also activating the airbrush spray gun used to complete his paintings. If the artist’s sculptures represent a certain rarified rationalism, required to adhere to the laws of physics and the restrictions of the third dimension, then his paintings are where we approach the ineffable, free from the flaws and fallibility inherent to actual existence. An amalgamation of the industrial and the organic remains, that marriage of the man-made or mass manufactured with the omnipresent brain-mapped mutation, although whether in harmony or hostility it is unsure. An attack of the blob appears to be taking place, recalling B-movie horror flicks from the Golden Age of Hollywood, as the amorphous antagonists appear to expand, engorge and engulf their surrounding metallic supports.

Additionally, in further evidence of their continued evolution, they have begun to excrete ectoplasmic effluence as if phoney phantoms from those Victorian, vaudevillian vignettes recreated by Mike Kelley. Whilst the supernatural slime-like substance has historically represented the physical manifestation of metaphysical concepts or concerns, here it acts as a visualisation of Pearce’s own philosophical preoccupation with the dubious dominance of Cartesian Dualism. For, as the exhibition’s title, Auto Soma, suggests - both a pleasing play on words and a physicalist pun that relies on the respective Ancient Greek translations of “self” and “body” - contemplative consideration of the interrelationship between the mind and the body is never far from view.