From the other side of the street, Kyle Morland’s sculptures in the gallery window are almost seamlessly set into the landscape of so many other interior design houses on the Sir Lowry Strip. After shop names like Urban Spaces, Rumour Has it, Occulus Interiors, Interior Solutions; Blank Projects rolls quite smoothly off the tongue. Looking both ways and crossing over, the tasteful geometry of the showroom looms larger, begins to turn in on itself, and the aura of Modern Living begins to falter.
Morland’s new works reside in that funny little halfspace between corporate lounge rejects, public sculptures on the beach front, and disassembled mechatrons. This is not a criticism. This latest exhibition is advertised as a “break away from the artist’s rigorous self-imposed rules” – and, sure enough, offsetting the industrial banality is some kind of small yearning which hangs around the sculptures – some hope of escape from the unyielding demands of their ‘formal properties’.
The de facto centrepiece, Glitch; a hurriedly fused together transformer – an inharmonious Power Ranger robot – garners some sympathy. The koki left on, labelled with a sheet number, their dimensions cut special, hewn of larger, absent pieces of metal: a bespoke, defunct Decepticon (those villainous, lumbering, sentient Toyotas from the Transformers franchise). The irregular shapes cling onto and spring out of each other like soldered on tumours. So it stands; a topple of aluminium boxes riveted together, perhaps to form some kind of hybrid body – each facet marked with Kyle’s name.
Morland attempts to breathe life into these dead metals, ringing with animate aspirations – with organic urges. Some works are luckier in this regard than others. Some of the unluckier ones are 60 Degree Saddle Ring and 90 Degree Saddle Ring, who both appear to have been snatched from their rightful place – tastefully sunk into an investment banking water feature. Whatever rigourous, self-imposed rules Morland is departing from here, these hot dip galvanised mild steel and carbothane ribbons still form slick, calculated, would-be Mobius strips. Likewise, in Joined, clean steel facets twist over each other like a trendy Tesseract (that fourth dimensional shape, containing height, width, but also time, progress, and dynamic space), reaching for the fourth dimension, falling short on the third.
M-A-T-E-R-I-A-L-I-T-Y wants for meaning like Pinocchio wants to be a real boy. It is a tiresome chore drawing meaning out of metal. You can take the letters apart, put them back together again, and come up with nothing more than recalibrated industrial design. In Assemble, Morland really does have his work cut out for him. He attempts to understand the natural world – a world of burning chaos and confusion – using cold, dead materials.
So, of course, in an act of reverse alchemy, he turns these metals to shit. His work, Fibonacci Spiral – a perfect, bronze shit swirl on the gallery floor – is the only organic form in the show. Having once traversed the biological world, processed and discarded by bodies, the hope is that it has been pressed with the markers of life. But his drive to categorise, to make mathematical, to pull chaos into the world of forms, is too strong. In the end, the marker given to the excrement is theoretical, not biological. The shit is a spiral. It belongs to Fibonacci.
These nods to the abject, without actually engaging with anything particularly personal or squishy, are perhaps what lead to the slightly odd, throwaway references to sex in works like Engaged; a rod-in-hole sculpture made of ‘hot dip galvanised expanded mild steel… and rubber’. This long rod perfectly punctures the purple metal net about three quarters of the way down, and lays there, forever rigid, nut in bolt. If other works like Glitch make a stab at creating unified, though imperfect, bodies, this work feels more aggressive, less collaborative – a clash of forms; which, in the context of the rest of the show, do bring the anatomical to mind. The harsh contrast between the two shapes, and their failure to fuse, seems to get at one of the crucial concerns of the show – the disconnect between animate intentions and inanimate objects.
Morland does acknowledge his relationship to representation and materiality more directly in a work like Carbothane; a fairly literal reference to Malevich’s famous Black Square. Carbothane is framed and wall-mounted – one of a few brief suspensions from sculpture in the show. Malevich’s Black Square (1913) is a go-to when speaking about links between the art, representation and life, aptly referenced here in light of Morland’s various experiments in capturing, schematising or tracing the living with his highly technical constructions. According to ancient legend, Black Square once heralded the end of representation – that is, it did what it said on the (hot-dip-galvanised-mild-steel) tin. There it was – a black square. On the wall.
Drawing on Malevich again, Morland is looking back in time at his own artistic lineage – back through Minimalism, through Pure Abstraction, through Modernism – right to the fabled turning point. And, I think, he is trying to look upon it with a bit of humanity.
This body of work does seem to be trying to pull itself away from the deadening vacuum of minimalism. There are a few experimental, redeemingly anxious sculptures which manage to dodge the formulaic. It has moments of playfulness and moments of pathos, and many, many moments of hot-dip-galvanised-mild-steel. In some ways, Assemble is Morland’s personal pocket guide on How to Be A Formalist and Stay Human. I only wish more formalists would follow suit.