No Revolution, No Suicide

Stage by stage, the organism increases in complexity; but that very complexity enables it to ‘live’ more produce a type of progeny with new and greater potentialities of self-expression than its parent.

Theosophy’s theory for the evolution of life and form tracks the course of nature as one that slowly but persistently builds on a systematically flawless, self-organising whole. Pedantically self-reflective, perpetually re-consolidating on what came before, Nathan Gray's body of work is similarly re-combinative, reconstituting its basic particles into exponentially complex sequences of forms. Inching towards the perfect aggregation – yet untroubled by the knowledge that it will never reach this end point – it is content with being an eternal work-in-progress.

Viewed as part of a constant timeline, this latest installation continues Gray’s meta-project towards a history that is infinitely revisable and fluid. It is a work of optimism, a denial of apocalyptic attitudes, a show of firm faith in continuity. A simple statement that there will be a future, whose quality depends on present action.

The installation plays out like an abstracted Rube Goldberg machine, with its assortment of branches, paper petals and things on string, blending and bending around countless corners, creating countless cosy crannies in which are hiding micro-worlds of botanic harbours and aquatic paradises… Out of this, the whole structure coheres into an organised system of love-making. A blend of biological imperative and tactile pleasure.

Rube Goldberg devices accomplish simple tasks via absurdly intricate means. Although the event of Gray’s art is ultimately that of gift-giving – just as 'the evolution of life is not a receiving but a giving' – for him, the importance lies primarily in the ‘enjoyment of the journey’, as in the delight and excitement of following ball bearings and cogs as they course their way through a Honda ad. In Gray’s work, lines connect, materials marry and colours clash continuously: an aesthetic ‘Mousetrap’ without a mouse; concerned not so much with what will happen in the end, but what happens along the way.

Spacemen 3 (whose cover for their album Playing With Fire the show’s title is lifted from) enjoyed a journey of their own: venturing along tangential trips across repetitious, phased and folded territories. If they took drugs to make music to take drugs to, does Nathan Gray listen to Spacemen 3 to make art to make music to? For Gray, art and music operate symbiotically in a synesthetic order, where experimentation with form, colour and composition plays out in the sensorial spheres of sound and vision.

At the cusp of the eighties and nineties Spacemen 3 began combining an ungainly amalgam of American musical minimalism, proto punk and BBC Radiophonic Workshop synth-scape with the era’s standard shoe-gazer fare of heavily improvised sets pumped with droning riffs, grating feedback and barely distinguishable vocal melodies. Shamelessly plagiaristic, they reconfigured their record collections to establish the foundations for an inspired call-and-response manner of practice.

Here, ‘minimal was maximal’. In the oeuvre of an ardent anti-minimalist, there is no space for simplicity amongst such gargantuan-scaled, gallery-sprawling installations, nor between the intricately interwoven lines of immaculately executed prints and drawings. But the intent is the same: to offer an opportunity for a transcendent experience, a drugless psychedelia, an experience that can then be added onto a long list of references for providing the basis for further creation.

Kandinsky heard notes in colours: middle-C on the piano, for instance, played yellow. Like a visual wall of sound, Gray’s colour-saturated installations are loud. Building on the momentum of previous, more static sculptural pieces, Love, Purity, Accuracy offers a body of work that trips over itself in its good will, in its explosive dynamism. It spills out and stains the sterility of the white cube. Adorned in the most flamboyant of festive get-up, Gray’s creations cry out for celebration, for us to forward this ‘open-ended love-letter’ of whom you are the recipient.

Pass it on.

-Chhar Daka Chan

October 2007