Mike Perry is an artist whose work engages with significant and pressing environmental issues, in particular the tension between human activity and interventions in the natural environment, and the fragility of the planet’s ecosystems. Land/Sea is a major new Ffotogallery exhibition which brings together recent bodies of work addressing how the natural biodiversity of landscapes and marine environments is undermined and made toxic by human neglect, agricultural mismanagement and the pursuit of short-term profit at the expense of long-term sustainability.
Using a large format analogue camera and combining painterly aesthetics with a hard edged environmental narrative, the photographic images in Wet Deserts shed a very different light on the health of the upland landscape than one is accustomed to seeing in tourist brochures or romantic paintings and landscape photography. Perry focuses his gaze on mundane and typically overlooked locations here in Wales, often in places commonly referred to as areas of natural beauty, our national parks. He does not offer us dramatic aerial vistas of oil polluted landscapes, but low-angle, near distance images of charred scrubland and landscapes left barren from tree-felling or over-intensive sheep-farming.
Môr Plastig (Welsh for ‘plastic sea’) is an ongoing body of work that classifies objects washed up by the sea into groupings. It is an open series of photographs ordered into Bottles, Shoes, Grids, Abstracts, and others. Perry photographs the found objects individually, straight to camera with a flat neutral light. By using a high-resolution camera to capture the surface detail, the artist allows the viewer to ‘read’ markings and scars etched into the objects by the ocean over months, and in some cases years. He wants the viewer to be intrigued and challenged by how a polluting object can be so aesthetically appealing. In his own words, “in addition to seeing these pieces as symbols of over-consumption and disregard for the environment, I also see them as evidence of the beauty and power of nature to sculpt our world”.
Mike Perry’s work resists easy categorisation. Photography is central to his practice, yet always in its multifaceted relationship to and dialogue with painting and drawing, sculpture and installation art. The influence of Minimalism is strong with serial arrangements, grids, and an interest in form, surface detail and abstraction. Repetition of visual motifs in specific bodies of work is deployed as an artistic strategy that is cumulative and greater than its parts, teasing out subtle differences whilst alerting us to the dystopian consequences of waste proliferation and environmental mismanagement.
The artist’s most recent work has focused on the coastline and rugged landscapes of West Wales, areas close to the smallholding he owns, on which he puts into practice the planting of native trees that restore and sustain the natural biodiversity. By collecting and photographing man-made objects washed up on the beaches, and recording in forensic detail the changing landscape around us, Perry alerts us to man’s negative impact on the ecosystem, but also to the beauty of the flora and fauna, and nature’s propensity to renew itself, even in the face of such adversity.
Land/Sea is a Ffotogallery Touring Exhibition, and after its presentation in Penarth, the show will tour to Mostyn, Llandudno, and Aberystwyth Arts Centre in 2018. The exhibition is curated by David Drake, Ffotogallery, and Ben Borthwick, Plymouth Arts Centre. It includes a sonic work exploring the exhibition themes made by the artist and composer Matthew Lovett. The accompanying Ffotogallery publication includes contributions from the writers George Monbiot and Skye Sherwin.