The Shock of the Now Issue 72
Featured Exhibition Text
Anna Woodwar - ‘A Cloned Realm’ Solo Exhibition & Louis Morlæ - ‘All Watched Over By Emissaries of Loving Grace’ Solo Exhibition
Galeria Duarte Sequeira
Braga, Portugal
8th February 2023

For her debut solo exhibition, ‘A Cloned Realm’ at Galeria Duarte Sequeira, Anna Woodward’s world builds against initially abstract backdrops build-up by soak-staining, that signature technique of artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, where watered-down acrylic washes pigment the previously pristine expanse. These looser, freer backgrounds serve in complementary contrast to the density of detail that comes after, an effortless origin before the painstaking painterly perfection applied on top. It is only after that tentacular biomorphic protuberances begin to worm their way across the colour-field canvas. Intrusive and invasive yet marked by a primary palette that appeals to our innate id, candy-coloured like mass-produced plastic playthings. These alien appendages or sentient slimes lead - or mislead - the viewer, able to draw our attention before manipulating and manhandling our gaze. They direct us through Woodward’s labyrinthine landscapes towards island encampments, towering totems or ominous openings. Throughout, gleaming metallic pipes, poles and pillars sprout from the sludge or the stains, industrial evidence of previously civilised inhabitation, the remnants of a man-made past. In one artwork, these polished posts cut across the entirety of the picture plane, obstructing our view and obscuring the wood for the trees. And in Woodward’s paintings, it is imperative to see both wood and trees alike, for while demonstrating a mastery of the minutiae, the bigger picture is never found wanting, each artwork rewarding in equal measure micro and macro.

Just as many pop-cultural post-apocalyptic depictions demonstrate the passing of time by the rapidly re-established natural hierarchy, by plant life repopulating the urban environment in an often absurd abundance, in Woodward’s artworks flowers also have the run of the place. We witness a vegetation takeover of epic proportions, seemingly equally at home sprouting out of the flowing fluorescent slurry as taking root within the stained substrate or wrapping vine-like up the vertical columns. Gone are the decorative, craft-work or feminine connotations frequently allocated to flora, as in their beauty they denote a darker undertone, that of humanity's ceased existence.

As you descend into the aptly named GDS Warehouse space, a sense of the dystopian is just as strong. Here, Louis Morlæ’s ‘All Watched Over By Emissaries of Loving Grace’ establishes an android-inhabited in-between space. A sci-fi service station of sorts, the pit-stop between parallel universes or a Welcome Break from the information superhighway. A place to relax, reflect and, perhaps literally, recharge one’s batteries. A drained droid lies atop a bifurcated bench clad in hand-embroidered cushioning, powered down as if asleep or on standby mode, awaiting enlightenment, its VDU visage displaying a screensaver of mysterious motifs. Another reclines within a circular seating arrangement, the automaton further anthropomorphised with the addition of Brad Pitt’s bald bonce - the living equivalent of a Napoleonic death mask, all the way from a Hollywood prosthetic department - as well as humanoid hands - often cast in place of the head, should facial disfigurement have occurred pre or post-mortem.

The exhibition takes its title from Richard Brautigan’s 1967 poem, originally handed out as a free flyer on the streets of Summer of Love-era San Francisco, that extolled the virtues of a mutually beneficial marriage of nature, humanity and machine, all working together for the greater good (“The Greater Good”). Playing on an ovular screen not dissimilar to a spacecraft’s windscreen or planetary porthole, Morlæ’s latest video work presents a contemporary consideration of the side-by-side subsistence of androids and humankind. What starts as a psychedelic celestial trip amongst a galactic or ocular cosmos and a sinister deserted space station, soon gives way to a skydive descent towards an unspecified city and a subsequent steaming red crater mid-crosswalk. Morlæ adds experimentation with AI and deepfake technology to his artistic arsenal, as Pitt reappears with World War Z-length straggly hair and post-apocalyptic attire, expressing some existential angst or comatic confusion. Later, his aforementioned simulated stand-in proceeds to cut a rug around a stereotypical American shopping mall to a soundtrack produced in collaboration with Charlie Dobney, diverting the attention of the assembled masses to a Louis Vuitton checkout counter or a shelf of Balenciaga Defenders. Finally, in a moment of calm contemplation, we follow a rural road until it reaches sand, cacti and palm trees, supposedly in anticipation of a degree-presentation worthy Part Two…