Tumult is one of 42 exhibited items intended to “…deal with man’s seemingly relentless path to the annihilation of the planet by whatever means: by a destruction of the environment through human need/human greed, or by one nation supplanting another” ( Vernon Carter: Plantations?)
The key terms are ” seemingly relentless path to the annihilation”… and as such Vernon aligns his thinking with current philosophy, e.g. “To be a good human being,” philosopher Martha Nussbaum observed, “is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control”
she goes on
The condition of being good is that it should always be possible for you to be morally destroyed by something you couldn’t prevent. To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the human condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility. (The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy.
Carter often leaves the found shape without fully submitting it to transforming details. Consequently, a hand appears at the end of an unbelievably long arm. He is willing to let the natural shape to win, to control where the man-made bit appears.
Partly painted part low relief the Tumult represents a group of figures running away from an undefined chaotic horizon towards the lower corners of the rectangle. The eye quickly notes repeats of postures and gestures. That indicates a use of some kind of stencil. I perceive it as a sign of a substantial similarity among people and as a doubt that a difference is always visible. Yet, a difference is what breaks the society, in which Vernon Carter makes his objects and music, apart. In that context, the peaceful co-existence of many (if not all), is just a hope. Perhaps more easily imagined in communities toiling on plantations – which gives the title to the group of small sculptures standing in the same groud. Their verticality seems to me like a frozen scream- or a song. They look towards different directions as if lost, waiting.
Carter’s musical talent, at times, saturates found shapes, in the manner of symbols made visible. In the Fecundity the small branches contain just enough of emerging detail to engage the meaning of its title. It also appears like a relationship of a melody and the supporting harmony, one for right hand, the other for the left – on a piano.
The indeterminacy controlled by the found shapes is preserved while detailing at the twigs ends returns the meaning to anthropomorphism. The outcome is both raw and poetic.
Working in two-dimensions is disturbed by violent cuts, a sort of a metonymy of lightning, clearly perceivable in Clamour.
Carter allows the symmetry on the inner circle to stay open to the irregular additions. In his own words, he perceives structure and chaos as “…inseparable identities, one of the fundamental laws of nature” ( ibidem)
No wonder that the image of a primeval beginning is a chaotic multitude discarding one central meaning.
Figures in Life Force (below)are rendered in different scales. It may indicate that the bigger ones are replacing the smaller ones as being optically stronger. However, they may also stand for the status quo being challenged by the continuous growth of new generations, represented by the smaller figures.
The well-known metaphor of the butterfly wing resonates with this composition. The big hand is both signaling a power and a defeat of the falling figure at the top right. It is an almost audible scream.
Carter concludes:” Plantation is a metaphor for survival or perhaps extinction. All living organisms are interdependent on one another and the loss of just one of these diminishes each of us”
He aligns his intentions with the prevailing concern about climate change as well as the killing power of human greed, of greedy humanity. As he states above – one nation supplanting the other is the story of humanity.
I hasten to add – that he does not narrow down the aesthetic experience to art’s instrumental function. His art appears to fit Antoin Artaud’s maxim – it infects the viewer before he or she knows it.
Images courtesy John McMacken and Engine Room Gallery
NOTE: After publishing, this arrived in my inbox on 7th Nov. This UK artist also collects roots and branches to fashion art objects. More narrative and less sublime than those by Vernon Carter.