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Alex Pearl

Salt Gallery, Hayle  25th April - 26th June 2008


Alex Pearl is an artist of the digital age: and the videos that are at the core of his touring exhibition 'Little Deaths' currently at Salt are readily viewable on 'youtube'. Yet what is missed on the internet is the physical encounter with the work, and the experience of time and scale that ensues.


It is instinctive to feel protective towards baby-sized humans, yet the figures in Pearl's sculptures, taken from model railways, are insect-sized and they seem to elicit more sadistic responses. Certainly Pearl himself has ripped off their limbs, or violently submerged them in blutak: like the giants in Goya's late paintings.

However it is matches and balloons that are the most frequent victims of this apparent sadism: often with little faces drawn simply onto them. In one small sculpture a single match is tied to a bed, with a magnifying glass poised threateningly over it, ready to be ignited when caught in direct sun.  In another a face is drawn on an Alka selzer tablet that dangles painfully over a cup of water: placed in a tortuous confrontation with its own demise. On one of three monitors a balloon with eyes and mouth deflates slowly (see video below).


Many of these works are called 'Little Deaths' and are part of a series. The title perhaps relates to the french term for orgasm, which, in 'The Pleasure of the Text' was used by Roland Barthes to describe the pleasure of reading. Like a book of many pages, individually the little deaths works are slight, but seen together the effect is cumulative. They become a poignant and ironic comment on mortality and the fragility/futility of existence: well established modernist themes expressed using a contemporary postmodern language.

Whilst there are similarities with an artist like David Shrigley or, more locally, Daryl Waller, the difference is that Pearl does not encourage us to think of the figures as self-portraits, and therefore the show as a whole is not obviously autobiographical. Though he almost certainly identifies with them, it is not clear whether he relishes the violence and wanton destruction meted out to the surrogate characters that inhabit his works. This ambiguity undermines the pathos in the work, replacing self-pity instead with anxiety, and uncertainty.


Whilst for some artists small work can be a sign of lack of confidence, or experience, here the small scale is integral to it. Yet its relation to the internet remains important to its identity, because it gives it another life, and another dimension: on the internet it bumps up against the 'real world' of mainstream cyberspace in all its glory.

This fraught relationship was encapsulated perfectly in 'Feedback': a book containing all the comments left on youtube to Pearl's videos there. Initially it appears to be one long catalogue of failure and rejection: 'Thats two minutes of my life I'll never get back', 'w.t.f.', 'one word BORING'. Nearly all the comments in the book are negative, but in fact their unrelenting indifference and nihilism fits perfectly with the abject quality of the work, and indeed adds to it; in the process finding hope and humour where there shouldn't be any.




see webprojects

Alex Pearl's youtube name is 'rotagavin'

Rupert White 7/5/08