Contemporary Tension: What Matters?
Uncertainty. Persecution. Protest. Faced with a bewildering climate, systemic racism, environmental decay and politic division, our modern day landscape presents a disheartening and anxious societal frame. A troublesome disconnect between intentions for global, instantaneous connection and the realities of protest and oppression construct a tension, a ‘contemporary tipping point’, as Rebecca Habgood defines it.
Habgood’s complex installation, Matter grounds these contemporary debates in a physicality, one which makes tangible such abstract tension in a biomorphic sculptural statement.
Flapping in the wind of a motion-sensor activated fan, Habgood’s organza and polythene inflated structures stretch and contort, triggered by the viewer’s nearby presence. Rich tones of red, coral, and dusty mauve dance throughout the space, injected with life as the human body encroaches. A steel bar domed frame defines the space of the piece, with the flapping fragments of organza stretching through, as if each organic form were a prisoner escaping from their cell, each contorting through the barred windows. Habgood defines these biomorphic entities as inspired by cellular forms. As the basic unit of life, a cell offers the single refined commonality between all forms of life. In contrast, the skin, a space defined by the display of difference, can be adorned, decorated with clothing or art. Habgood’s material choice, of a sheer organza exploits the translucent qualities which arguably stimulate the visceral materiality of living, or in fact dying, skin. The organic shapes foster a corporeal quality within the piece, with the fiery colour palette a nod to bodily process. The artist therefore creates an opposition, a tension between cell and skin, living and death, and parallels these medium-based contrasts with our hostile and troubled societal landscape.
The notion of activation is central to Habgood’s piece. A viewer’s presence animates the installation, locating the audience within a position of power. We can choose to activate the work, but we can also, just as easily, chose to let the work die. Moving away from the piece deflates the forms and collapses the installation. This brings into play the procedure of intervention within the piece, and ultimately encourages the viewer to question their position in wider society. Intervention and interaction, these can be our best qualities; to care is to matter. Caring, relationships, matter.
Habgood’s practice is characterised by the complex nature of boundaries. A variety of plastic-based materials encapsulate the space, such as clear polythene in Lung, Viscera I, or black, glossy tarpaulin in Untitled. Whether the medium is fixed in the air, as if a bird transfixed in flight, within Untitled or located on the ground in Lung, Viscera I, taped into a contorted form, enveloping the air, Habgood’s work confronts its viewer. Formulating shapes in a malleable plastic creates forms which bring to mind both playful and animate structures, but also a deathly coldness, a threatening decay in the limpness of the plastic forms. Exploring the seeming binary between interior and exterior, Habgood’s installation transcends traditional boundaries. Matter specifically envelops the viewer within its ‘arms’, initiating a transformation within its audience, altering the passive onlooker to become an activated participant. The sculpture is brought to life as the PIR motion senor responds to a human presence, and thus the installation constructs a space which ultimately illuminates our connections. In this sense the piece formulates a space in which the viewer is encouraged to contemplate our differences and question the misplaced anger and friction rife throughout society as a result of these differences. Habgood’s title, therefore, simultaneously ‘matter’ as in the physical units of human life, our substance, taking up mass and space within our landscape, but also ‘matter,’ encouraging us to address what morally matters to us. We must exploit our physicality in order to make a difference and consider the matters of society. As Habgood locates, this begins with a reversal of society’s unjust persecution, oppression and environmental chaos.