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KIRSTEN BERKELEY and JOHN PEARSON

by Diane Calder

(Sandroni Rey Gallery, Venice) Decades before the media spread the dirt on Monica's blue dress, Lewis Morely's photograph of a nude Christine Keeler astride a Jacobson Butterfly chair raised the circulation of London tabloids. The scandalous ‘60s affair involving the lush, sensuous Keeler brought down British cabinet members as Morely's eye for form elevated a working class woman to the status of an icon.

Kirsten Berkeley, a recent graduate of Goldsmiths College in London, constructs sculptures that play the roles of partners at a party where characters like Christine Keeler, Bill and "that woman" might be guests. The artist, who remembers once having had great sex on a kitchen chair, incorporates mundane objects like bottles with sections of a bent ply Jacobson chair to form a painted rainbow group of assemblages.
 

Kirsten Berkeley, "Loveland"

The history of color's path to sensuality is longer than the yellow brick road that lead Dorothy out of the grey realities of Kansas. It has been fingered as a cosmetic cover that can excite the emotions and an apt symbol for character types or stages of life. Artist/critic Peter Plagens once confessed to longing to capture in paint the seductive colors featured in his wife's fashion magazines. Berkeley flicked through tons of magazine pictures, grouping and editing images for clues to casting her characters and intuiting details of their lives, ranging from their apparel and posture to the kinds of objects they would possess. "If a woman had great blue shoes, how would she cross her legs on a chair?"

Berkeley excels in the construction of meaning through the cunning juxtaposition of color and form. She gives Freudian associations a glossy new shine that posits life in a sensationalist society driven towards instant gratification by consuming passions. Go to her party and introduce yourself to her eight archetypal characters. The virile young man is the guy with the bright green leek, and the white virgin is the one with the stop-pered bottle and a soft towel suggesting the kind of manipulation needed to open it.



John Pearson, "Marker,"
photograph, 1999.





John Pearson, "Breaker,"
photograph, 1999.

More than the gallery's courtyard separates Berkeley's work from John Pearson's. Each artist deals differently with subject matter, color, manipulation of materials and methods of display. Pearson shares Berkeley's interest in place and the body, but his use of the body conveys movement into a place that becomes a catalyst for ideas that subsequently define the experience of being there.

In his project, entitled Green Eyes, Pearson makes evening treks from his apartment to a hillside site that becomes, by extension, his studio. The video and photographs in which Pearson marks his heightened sense of vision, his sense of belonging, and the fluidity of space and light as time passes, have an unpolished, spontaneous quality that is singularly appropriate for conveying their message. He isn't documenting or making a spectacle of a place, or even setting up structures (à la James Turrell or Uta Barth) that would give his environment or work a particular look. Photographs including those of hands become markers of change as the artist's eyes and the lense of his camera adjust to the fading light. Leonardo da Vinci reportedly darkened his surroundings in order to dilate the pupils of his eyes and raise his powers of observation. Pearson notes, "When the light changes, you have to change with it.".

Critic Claudine Ise understood that Pearson's photos, ". . .ask deceptively simple questions about the complicated ways in which we perceive the world around us." Pearson's questions function like kóans or riddles given to students of Zen to help them realize a breakthrough. The kóan, "gateless gate," is especially applicable to Pearson's work. The artist's sense of humor, subject matter and disposition of the work make it seem approachable or gateless. At the same time, the work can be difficult to enter unless the viewer is willing to shatter pre-existing ideas about the nature and functions of photography.