Tranquility Base

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18 February - 17 March 2018, Parlour Projects, Hastings
By Rosheen FitzGerald

Ben Pearce is all over Eastbourne Street. His insightful, political, Life Will Go on Long After Money has been installed in the Holt Gallery at HCAG for a season, and his new show opened last week just down the road at Parlour Projects, bookending what’s being billed as Hastings’ Cultural Precinct.

He’s nominally a sculptor but, like any artist worth his salt, what Pearce really peddles is the art of ideas. Deceptively simple metallurgical pieces engage the viewer and demand participation. Building upon his body of work, spanning 13,529 days at the time of writing, his obsession with the heavens is evident. His, by now signature, textured bronze, reminiscent of a lunar landscape writ small, runs throughout. Some pieces, such as Matrix and Girder echo his earlier found object work. He juxtaposes the inherently luxurious bubbled bronze with prosaic everyday items drawing the viewer’s attention to the potential for beauty in the banal, and to pose questions about perceptions of value. Others, such as Dit Dah, Voice Above and Voice Below reference communication, framing a negative space, a blank vacuum to be filled by the viewer.

Participation is at its height in Tell This Your Fears – a smooth copper tablet on which visitors are invited to etch whatsoever they choose. In subverting the norms of engagement with art – by allowing us to touch, to deface, to leave our mark – an emotional barrier is removed, encouraging vulnerability and giving us a sense of ownership and connection. Words jump out – child’s death – suffocation – pay mortgage – from the jumbled knot of anxiety of the masses. The construction of the etching implement also allows what any breathing, feeling human must desire when coming into contact with Pearce’s work – to touch the pocked bronze surface and to have a tactile experience of its crenulations. It is beautiful, but imperfect – hard to hold, hard to write with, and produces a cramped scrawl that is hard to read – a physical expression of how it is to own one’s fears in a public setting.

Pieces are not labelled but a listing is available. A fun exercise is first to experience the show, then retrospectively attempt to match the titles to the art – for me all were immediately obvious, eliciting a-ha gasps of eponymous insight, because in Pearce’s oeuvre, names are important, cracking a chink that casts a beam of light on the depth of his creative intent. The banner under which he’s chosen to exhibit, Tranquility Base, takes its title from the lunar landing site of Apollo 11 – a safe place from which to explore the unknown. This is most explicitly alluded to in Crescent and Eclipse which marry the form of moon that we see, with the texture of the moon as it actually is. The subtler For Aldrin honours the second man to walk on the moon. How much more impactful is this piece when we realise that, almost exactly an earth’s turn about the sun ago, in this very same space, he exhibited works in a similar vein that gave homage to Jules Verne’s fictional characters’ Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Thus his attention spans from the depths of the Earth to the vault of heavens, exploring distal ways to convey meaning in the absence of conventional tools of language and figurative representation. It’s work that makes you work but, like much in life, we receive what we put in.

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