Charlie Morris’s installation at Artpace is a triangulation of artworks consisting of an altered book by the Marquis de Sade, a pallet of stacked plaster casts of a military hat, and a photo/video wall showing deadly plants growing in domestic and exterior environments. The group can be read as an investigation into political persecution, the military’s shaping of the individual, and our dabbling in “dangerous” objects.
In the work titled chambre, an open book and a mound of paper figures sit side-by-side within a traditional gallery vitrine. The center of each page of the book has been dexterously excavated to reveal a multilayered grotto; the adjacent pile of paper figures are tangled together, echoing the contorted poses in the book’s illustrations. The “deconstructed” novel is one of four volumes of Juliette written by the Marquis de Sade. Previously censored, his sexually explicit book contains hundreds of engravings of bizarre mise-en-scènes of figures engrossed in various sexual acts. Sade, the French libertine writer, represents the quintessential artist struggling against the prudish censor; Morris becomes a different kind of censor by physically redacting the actors, cutting them from the baroque architectural settings of the engravings. This act creates a new narrative that encourages the viewer to reflect on the nature of the censor and the censored-an idea that resonates in current society where freedom of speech and privacy issues are constantly negotiated.
Morris uses a similar surface-level appeal to draw the viewer into Conium maculatum / Bloom. On one side of a wall, Morris presents a series of framed photographs taken of innocent-looking plants shown in different states of growth within a pseudo-scientific controlled setting; on the other side is a high definition surveillance-like video grid showing the same plants growing outside at different locations. The plants, viewers learn, are Conium maculatum, more commonly known as Poison Hemlock. Unlike Morris’s previous sculptural work, where he merely simulated the look of bomb and methamphetamine labs, the artist for this series actually cultivated and replanted this highly toxic plant. Conium maculatum / Bloom shows the artist’s emerging interest in exploring human interaction with their dangerous, even lethal, environment.
The theme of manufacture and distribution (cultivation and replanting) is also at the center of Morris’s work Half to Whole. For this sculpture the artist fabricated several stark white plaster casts of an army general’s hat and arranged them on a monochromatic white facsimile of a shipping pallet. At first glance the hats appear to be identical editions systematically stacked in two orderly rows, but upon closer inspection the sculptural group reads as distinct individual objects. The arrangement, subject, and form of support evoke military themes of orderliness, heroic statuary, and the movement of troops. However, the tradition of military conformity and discipline is broken by the jarring division of each hat into left and right sides that barely line up together. Half to Whole illuminates the tension between individuality and conformity. Indeed, each hat carries the story of its separate molding that may also be read as a metaphor for a soldier’s experience of being shaped, whether through basic training or on the battlefield.
Interim Curatorial Assistant