Alex Morrison
My House is My World
Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne
30 June till 12 August 2012

Our house is a very, very, very fine house.
With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard.
Now everything is easy, 'cause of you.
And our la, la, la, la, la…

On the day of the opening of My House is My World by Canadian artist Alex
Morrison, I turned on the radio. They were playing the song Our House by
Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, written and performed in 1970. I can’t help but
think how contemporary the lyrics come across. Is homesteading ‘back’?
Perhaps it is, but not necessarily as a lifestyle that considers staying
at home a critique on nomadic culture and globalism, as they are
intrinsic elements of our daily lives. Rather our homes today are places for
nesting, for taking breaks from all that. Today a home is a place for
contemplation and knowledge production, for things that take time and
concentration. A space to process all kinds of input outside by practicing
time-consuming crafts such as gardening, reading, writing, modeling and

That same day I walk up to the exhibition room on the top floor of the
Kölnischer Kunstverein (passing Bernd Krauss’ big solo exhibition on the ground
floor thinking ‘I’ll see that later’). In a cozy, fairly small
rectangular room that is extended by a white-walled balcony, typical for
Cologne’s architecture of late 1940s, a series of Morrison’s recent framed and
unframed pictures, mostly drawings, are presented. Modestly installed and
there is enough space to make the viewer contemplate the range of pieces
in this quiet white room.

Groups of drawings are hung together or stand-alone. Architectural studies for
facades or advertisements spring to mind. But it is not clear from what
time they originate and for what purpose they are designed. The
‘advertisements’ seem a curious mixture of historically graphic fonts in a
grouping of framed drawings. In Gluck ohne Glas wie Dumm ist das? (2012),
Coloured Glass Destroys Hatred (2012) and Dunroamin’ (2012), Morrison seems

to reference the Toulouse Lautrec era, or the late sixties when
fonts appeared as if the type (or maker) was on hallucinatory drugs.
Bulky fonts. It seems the paper and colours are prepared so that it makes them
look somewhat ‘old’. Morrison doesn’t use ‘white’ paper.

Titles of works in the show often point to a fictional or even mock project
such as Illustration for a building façade (2012) or Making Beer More
Expensive (armature, 2012). Others seem more personal such as Mother’s House
(2012). A large framed drawing made of oil, graphite and conté pencil on
oil-primed paper. It is a fragment of a Victorian style façade, very
common on Vancouver Island where Morrison’s mother still lives. Thin pencil
lines are framing small parts that are painted white. They might refer to
a construction material such as plaster that smooth out the surface.
The drawings Neo-Tudor Black motif and in Neo-Tudor motif (White and Grey)
(both 2012) seem sketches of decorative elements for another façade,
illustrations for stained glass patterns or the laying out of roofing tiles.
Half of the paper of the first drawing is left empty, a blank and incomplete
design, while the other seems more ‘complete,’ but it is still hard
to imagine its true purpose. The Neo-Tudor style was adopted en masse by
Victorian Britain as a romantic gesture or reference to how houses were
built in the Middle Ages when the Tudors ruled England (1485-1603). A
rather cruel dynasty that laid the foundation for a new British culture and
colonialism executed by nineteenth century Victorian Britain. The style
of the Victorians itself revived again in the sixties and seventies, the
generation of his parents who perhaps used it for similar romantic

Morrison, who was born in Redruth, England, not only reflects on these kind of
shifting, discursive historical moments. Rather, he makes history
transcendent by overlaying the very forms and materials of past times so that
one can almost feel what went wrong. He suggests the connections between
different era’s, ideologies and times and shows how forms, materials,
shapes and lines can become in fact ruins or merely expressions of
nostalgia. Undone by their initial purposes they become massively adopted and
thus mass-produced.
Morrison perhaps carries some cryptic autobiographical motives along in this
exhibition too. In the sculpture East-West (2012) two pots with
thick-leaved Money Plants are placed on an elegant wooden pedestal that
traditionally is used to put vases with flowers on. These plants could be found
in many Seventies’ interiors and are still part of people’s homes who
have lived throughout the seventies or were born in this decade. Made of
Chavant clay, a wax and oil based clay that doesn’t dry-up and therefore is
ideal for modeling and pattern making, one is larger and more vertical
then the other one. They stand close like a couple. East-West seems like
a portrait of Morrison’s parents or at least of the move they made in the early
seventies from England’s East Coast to Canada’s West Coast Vancouver,
where Alex eventually grew up. Also it could portray the ongoing
conflicts that we have towards reconciling our history and present, or
differences and similarities, leaving old homes to build new ones.

More and more while I walk around in the exhibition, a break with my
expectations occurs. This is not entirely a show about the possibility of a
safe haven, of the very existence yet of a place to rest from modernity’s
fast-paced claim on daily life. There is balanced irony and there are
unsettling elements. The very existence of a safe haven or home in the
physical and ideological sense might as well be a total illusion. This thought is
strongly evident and expressed in the drawing that carries the title of the
exhibition My House is My World (2012). What is depicted looks like some
sort of billboard with the lettering that reads the title. The top of the picture
is based on transparent lines of pencil drawings that evoke an
unstable foundation for the words. The in-between spaces are coloured in with
white, red,blue, yellow and black. Here a home is not a home, but a metaphor
for the unsettle-able self.

Lots of things have changed since the seventies, since capitalism invaded our
homes and globalism left us detached laborers, nomads, roaming the planet. There
is perhaps a sense of longing, to go back to the times of Our House, to
find a less complex, less fragmented state of being. But going back into
history is simply an impossible project since all ideologies have been emptied
out, even that of homesteading. Only the shapes, lines, styles and materials
are left, like the clay casts of plants that were once real. Is it with humble
acts of craft, drawing and modeling by using materials that never dry up,
that one can charm the architecture of our interior, old and new?
Morrison’s artistic practice is inspired by the thin line between past failed
ideologies. What happens to the forms, the materials and objects that were
designed for a revolutionary purpose (good or bad), and do they still carry their
initial motives? Or are they like frames or shells emptied out from the
original message? Or can we learn from them by applying them again it in the

Renske Janssen