Simon Patterson’s ‘An Exhibition As Expedition’ takes you on a discursive and peripatetic journey, one which is immaterially played out in the mind of the visitor as they traverse the De Le Warr Pavilion. While doing this the artist sets out to undermine traditional bodies of ‘stable’ knowledge such as maps, museums and archives. Suggesting that meanings, not just in the world of art, are always in a state of shape shifting flux and that truth is just another strange sub-genre of fiction.
In ‘Seascape’ (2017) the first of the exhibition’s three interlinked parts, Patterson explores alternate forms of painting by performatively reenacting a sea battle with modern sailing boats and coloured grenades of pigment. This spectacle, like the works within the gallery itself, inhabits the fine line between fact and fiction. By layering smoky pigment, the illusionary tool of painting, directly over the seascape Patterson combines the fictitious quality of painting with reality itself while also transforming painting into a time based medium.
‘Manned Flight’ (1999) forms the second part of the exhibition, comprising of a primitive looking WW1 man-lifting war kite renamed Yuri Gagarin (after the first man in space). In its anachronism the piece conjures the fragility and terrifying technological sparseness of early space flight that was achieved with less technology than a Nokia 3310.
The third and central part of the exhibition is the safari itself. Entering the room it at first appears like a museum display but examining the objects more closely reveals they are not factual artefacts but mainly fakes, forgeries and fictions. This undermines and alters our perception of the museum as an institution of apparently certain knowledge.
Most of the objects have been taken from the Hastings and Bexhill museums and are in conversation with works by the artist himself. One such object on the display is the skull of the Piltdown Man which, in 1912, amateur archeologist Charles Dawson claimed to be the ‘missing link’ between ape and man. But in 1948 new developments in technology revealed that the skull was in fact an elaborate fraud; Dawson had combined a human skull with the jaw of an ape. This is displayed next to a slide rule, ‘Time Machine’ (1993), made by the artist where famous names can similarly be chopped up and manipulated. Is there a distinction between artists and fraudsters? After all, they both make reality a fiction.
All the objects in the room are activated in relation to each other like this, creating constantly changing constellations of meanings as you walk around the room. It is similar to a three-dimensional version of Aby Warburg’s ‘Mnemosyne Atlas’, a collection of pictures he would continually rearrange. For him, the meaning between images, the voids and gaps, the mental connections, were more important than the images themselves.
Employing such methods has allowed Patterson to tacitly guide us on a journey where we are in charge of our own truths and where our minds perambulate, allowing visitors to be in charge of their own artistic production. In this sense, the objects may not be the core subject of the exhibition. Perhaps there is another larger subject lurking as we rove around the spaces – that of the journey itself. The journey of subjectively experiencing art but also the journey of making it.