Matthew Verdon: Thermo-hysteresis
Hyperthermia, 2017, 11'39
I did these patterns for tiles for a hotel by the sea… The design of these strongly geometrical patterns was made up of lines, circles, triangles, and even leaves, stars and moons. These were highly imaginative patterns; but a lot of imagination was also shown in the application of the patterns on a large scale with absolutely original and unpredictable effects due to their combinations.
-- Gio Ponti on the Parco Dei Principi, Sorrento, 1964
Navigational maps, commonly known as "stick charts", were originally used in the Marshall Islands by navigators during long ocean voyages. Although stylized, the charts were functional objects providing information on the locations of individual islands as well as wave patterns. These objects were memory aids, created for personal use or to instruct novices, and the significance of each was known only to its maker.
A mask does not exist in isolation; it supposes other real or potential masks by its side, masks that might have been chosen in its stead and substituted for it… A mask is not primarily what it represents but what it transforms, that is to say, what it chooses not to represent.
-- Claude Lévi Strauss, The Way of the Masks, 1982
Matthew Verdon was born in Brisbane, Australia and currently lives and works in London. He has completed an MFA at Goldsmiths, University of London 2014 following a BA at Chelsea College of Art in 2008 and a Bachelor of Applied Science at the University of Queensland (1995). Recent exhibitions include; A particular feeling of distanced dependency in a proximate environment, AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent (2016), Les Rencontres Internationales, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2015), One way return, Peter Von Kant, London (2014), Les Rencontres Internationales, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012), The Object as Image, Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna (2012), Hors Pistes, Pompidou Centre, Paris (2011), All that glitters is NOT institution, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2010), Inside outsider language, Waterside Project Space, London (2010).
It was like we hadn't seen each other for a long time, 2017
Organic compost, hybrid wheat seeds, weatherproof PVA
You’re keeping me warm, 2016
Rustproof paint, fungicidal paint, weatherproof paint, wi-fi thermostat, plywood
A conversation between Matthew Verdon and James Gormley.
James Gormley: This question might apply, to a greater or lesser degree, to almost any contemporary art, but do you regard Thermo-hysteresis as a suite of discrete objects or an installation?
Matthew Verdon: In this case I see the show existing as both. Whilst the works can be read individually, the installation attempts to create an ecology within the exhibition space where contingency, dependency and complexity is highlighted and chains of causality occur. For example, the ambient temperature in the room may activate a wireless thermostat in one work that controls the temperature of water flowing through a structure reminiscent of underfloor heating in another work. An additional example is the suspension of a work being anchored by the weight of another. As such, there are explicit material and immaterial linkages throughout the show that question the possibility of isolation or systemic abstraction. I also see the exhibition in relation to the gesamtkunstwerk, where the idea of all encompassing total design is expanded to include climate control. In his essay Design and Crime, Hal Foster talks of design spreading from architectural projects and art exhibitions to "everything from jeans to genes", but I am taking this a step further to the environment and the way we attempt to regulate it in the face of change.
JG: Erwin Panofsky described the tiled floor in Lorenzetti’s painting The Annunciation (1344) as the ‘symbol for the discovery of the infinite’ (Perspective as Symbolic Form, 1924) That’s just one of various ‘discovery of perspective’ art-historical narratives of the renaissance; it could be disputed. But I was reminded of it by your referencing to the tile pattern from Gio Ponti’s Parco Dei Principi hotel in Sorrento. There’s something oddly paradoxical in the idea that an obviously finite interior surface like a floor prompts me to project it into infinity, whereas I can look at a clear sky and think it looks quite flat. Do you think that’s intrinsic in the built environment?
MV: I think this paradox is perfectly embedded within the painting you refer to. It's not fully legible if the gold plane at the rear is a wall or the sky, but either way it shortens the perspectival depth of the scene. In the specific context of Ponti's hotel on a cliff top, such notions of finitude are played with as the rooms open onto balconies overlooking the Bay of Naples. Here the perspectival depth seems infinite, as the surface of the water appears to be an extension of the two toned blue tiled floor. As a consequence, the horizon recedes and feels out of reach. Therefore I would say that the impression of depth and flatness is dependent on the definition of the horizon. For me, the possibility that could be inherent in the infinite or boundless is also encapsulated to an extent in the way the tiles are used in the hotel. There are thirty individual tile designs, but these are laid in varying tessellations so that each of the one hundred rooms are differentiated and no pattern appears twice.
JG: You’ve made some very exacting decisions regarding materials. I’m thinking specifically about the two different representations, again, of Ponti’s tiles. In one area you’ve painted the patterns using paints with certain very specific weather resistant or fungicidal properties. In another you’ve made a kind of relief of that design out of compost and wheat seeds, which is obviously perishable, but then that material has been sealed in a weather resistant pva.
MV: The choice of materials is based upon those used in attempts to control natural processes or maybe just delay or cover them up for a while. Whilst a weatherproof paint may do what it says on the tin, it will eventually crack and flake off as a result of weathering so that although it may not appear so on the surface, the environmental process is still at work in the background. In much the same way as thermostatic heating or cooling systems attempt to mask external conditions through the regulation of internal temperature. These things are all efforts to stabilise or negate degradation and change, but without maintenance this may inevitably prove futile, as there is no such thing as the fixity or balance of nature. The other element of interest for me in such materials is the way they create an ongoing need for themselves through the eroding of tolerances and making us dependent on them. This can be seen in climate control systems creating positive feedback scenarios where the higher the temperature gets, the more cooling we need. The question of our relationship to a changing climate is also present in the video presented on the Quick Millions website in regards to museological objects that were not created to last indefinitely and data that is intended to. In both contexts, material preservation and the perseverance of knowledge they contain is climate dependent and possibly against nature.
JG: The stick constructions you have made are based on Marshallese navigational stick charts used mostly to identify patterns of ocean swells for those travelling by canoe. You could be approaching a number of different contexts with those - the colonial history of the Marshall Islands, for example, or the anthropological skew. You could also be invoking the region's volatile climatological situation, which will ultimately be a global one. Is there something that drew you to that particular method or that particular region?
MV: My interest in the charts comes from multiple perspectives. The charts are fascinating objects that use sticks to represent swells and wave patterns and cowrie shells to represent islands. Committing the details to memory, the charts were never carried on voyages. The information they contain was based on direction and flow rather than geographic accuracy, in some regards similar to the London tube map. But the charts contain extremely detailed knowledge that was gained by experience rather than through the use of any mapping tools or recording devices. As such they represent a highly evolved and sophisticated form of knowledge that was unprecedented at the time they were made and perhaps even now. In the present work, the charts have been expanded in size and depth and adapted by the inclusion computer hardware and thermodynamic devices.
The Marshall Islands present a unique conundrum in relation to their history and future. Being owned by the USA since WW2, it is now a sovereign country but also an associated state of the United States. This means the United States is obliged to provide economic and military assistance until 2023, or longer depending if the agreement is renewed. This includes allowing Marshallese people to live and work in the US without a visa. They are a chain of islands and atolls in the Pacific Ocean with an average elevation of a couple of metres above sea level. In light of rising sea levels, the country is one of the first to already be experiencing the impacts of climate change through flooding, erosion, droughts and soil salinity. A culture with intimate knowledge of sea swells and currents may ultimately become engulfed by them. As this situation is likely to occur more globally in years to come, the Marshall Islands can be seen as a canary in a coal mine. However the intention in using these maps doesn't come from an entirely pessimistic perspective, but also from that of resilience and possibility. Bangladeshi scientist Saleemul Huq talks of changing the narrative in such contexts from that of vulnerability and objectified powerless victims to one that endorses political agency and the possession of knowledge required to mitigate the effects of climate change that could subsequently be useful in other parts of the world. It is becoming quite obvious the old narrative does not work, so perhaps a re-framing of the issue may lead to potential ways forward.
Des Esseintes’ Tortoise, 2017
Bamboo, oyster shells, home brew bucket, water pump, aquarium heater, clamps, plastic pipe, water, rattan, cable ties, string
Compact of Free Association, 2017
Bamboo, shells, computer fan, washing machine hose, rattan, cable ties, string