Belfast, Northern Ireland

Locky Morris

Golden Thread Gallery

The Troubles not only shaped the political landscape in Northern Ireland in the last third of the twentieth century but also influenced local artistic practice there, leaving a mark on local life and imposing on art an ethical imperative to respond. This retrospective of Locky Morris’s work, “This Then” (whose second chapter will take place at the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland, next summer), showed the Derry-based artist to have been a prolific commentator on the period, exploring the spirit of the time in diverse works. It also revealed that in the past decade Morris has created art of a more introspective nature, focusing on ordinary matters with an intimist perspective, in keeping with the lived experience of a postconflict society.

An Bhearna Bhaoil—Gap of Danger, 1988, set the tone for the first part of the exhibition, which focused on emblematic works from the 1980s that sympathetically address the popular resistance led by the Nationalists. The work features seven burned garbage can lids with a stripe of tar across them. The title is a phrase from the Irish national anthem, where it evokes the Battle of New Ross, which occurred during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and as such symbolizes Republican opposition to British rule. The work translates this historical feeling in light of recurrent events such as riots—in which the burning of items of everyday use is a common occurrence—and the function that the garbage can lids had for the Catholic inhabitants of Derry, who banged them on the ground to warn of the arrival of police and wielded them like shields. Dawn Raid, 1988, consists of models of armed Land Rover Tangi vehicles—infamously used by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the Northern Irish police)—that surround the model of a house. Forming a circle and painted in yellow and red, colors that recall flames, these elements evoke both a target and an explosion. Town, Country and People, 1985–86, is made of three cones standing on the floor, on which the three entities of the title are shown as blue and black silhouettes, so somber that they suggest an apocalyptic setting. A small toy helicopter rests atop each of these structures; the cones thus represent the beams of light emitted by such craft in their surveillance actions.

After a phase in the mid-’90s devoted more to music than to art, Morris carried out various works in the public arena. Less known, his studio production expanded throughout the 2000s, and was revealed in this exhibition as a coherent investigation of chance in everyday life. He continues to use poor materials, appropriating commonplace objects and manipulating conventional iconographies. For example, for Itch, 1999, he covered the scrapings from a scratch-off lottery card with a loupe; for From Day One, 2008, he placed on a carpet a wrinkled shirt-collar insert that his daughter had discarded on her first day of school and that he had kept for four years; for Bathroom Suite, 2010, he recorded the sounds of his morning hygiene, which became a sound track emitted from boxes made from shelves combined with bathroom air vents to look like speakers. By mixing multiple personal references, these works constitute a kind of epiphany of one man’s current state of affairs.

Miguel Amado
Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers