9 July - 31 August, 2020, at Lane Crawford IFC, Hong Kong
Universal, figurative reflections, caught in flux, Simon Birch’s freeze-frame superhumans are re-emerging from past traumas, awakening to our collective potential, future possibilities, energized in oil and pigment for a new world. Deconstructed and reconstructed, in his paintings we see ourselves transformed, we see hope.
In Return Love Star Collider, a new group of work presented at Lane Crawford, IFC, Hong Kong, Simon Birch returns to oils and canvas, pencil on paper, with a new intensity. We recognize the big themes, which are encapsulated in the title, fragments of figures re-presented, deconstruction and reconstruction, beauty and tragedy. This is a human drama cast as a deeply personal predicament of flesh and bone, and one accentuated by Birch’s paintwork, where brush and palette knife give each work a distinctive texture, grounding its meaning in the materiality of the work itself. As Birch has observed: “There is something about making art – the use of materials, the tactile, hands-on-business of creation – that forces you to contemplate the obstinate physicality of the world. It’s where we came from and it’s where we’ll go.”
With new large scale projects ahead globally, we see here a snapshot of Birch's regular practice, a return to paint, the foundation of his work as an artist.
The connection between Birch’s installation art and his figurative paintings is most evident, perhaps, in video pieces such as ‘This Brutal House,’ a film of dancers shot in slow motion, with all context removed, floating in space. Here, the bodies of young, powerful men, suggest human potential and inexorable loss. As Birch has noted elsewhere: “My work explores issues of commonality and connectivity that underlie a world of conflict: the things that connect us drive us apart.” Indeed, this work could, perhaps, be understood as a momento mori: these people- pendula are measuring time towards their certain extinction.
In Return Love Star Collider we recognize the hallmarks of Birch’s art, but there is something new. Whilst earlier paintings such as ‘The Marvel’ and ‘Grindstone’ were evidence of a shift towards greater abstraction, in Return Love Star Collider, Birch deconstructs his figurative art still further. In these works, compositional space itself sometimes appears corporeal – shattering, moving towards us with the tactility of a body – whilst the body becomes disconcertedly spatialized, containing micro-worlds. The figures are stripped bare and the body, in a work such as ‘Shutdown Danger Pink,’ is characterized by complex planes and fields of colour. This segmentation, reduction, expansion, hints at biomedical technologies that enable radical visualizations of the body’s interior: we become the uncomprehending witnesses of our dis-embodied selves.