i n c e s a n t e m a r e a
The precariousness of human existence has inspired countless artists but few explore more powerfully, than Michael Pettet, our fragility within the context of an all encompassing natural world.
His is not an existence created and populated miraculously, in an instance, by the hand of the original creator, God, as in the biblical story of creation, but an on-going, relentless and often torturous process. There is something Darwinian in Pettet’s frames. This is a Galapodalic world that is constantly shifting, changing and evolving. Life struggles to emerge upon its volcanic surface against gigantic odds. It is a continual and painful process. One can almost hear its cries, its pleading, its pulsating and gasping breathes against the incessant sound of tides that rise and break against primeval shores, which have existed since the beginning of time and of all human consciousness.
In this most apocalyptic of artistic visions, our species is fundamentally no different to those others that crawl, slide upon the planet’s surfaces, or else swim and glide within its bluest and watery depths. Our greatest civilizations that once stood proudly upon the earth’s craggy surfaces are now far below it, within its layers… enveloped. Greek, Roman, Mogul, Aztec, that great truism of history about “the rise and fall of empires”, like the waves of the incessant tides themselves, a visible reality. The souls of those who once bloodily fought, traded and explored, wrote sophisticated legal codes, and loved breathlessly and passionately, escape not to some ethereal other world, but rot and disintegrate, and are taken into the bosom of the earth itself, to form visible reminders of a collective pool of memory and experience.
We have learned to dominate and enslave other life forms in our short and brutal evolution, from first welding the flint axe, to having our fingers on the nuclear trigger but we, like those poor sailors drowned off Scarpa Flow during the First and Second Great Wars, cannot escape our final destiny to be connected with our brothers and sisters across time in past, present and future. We speak of the lessons of History and of learning, of the infinite possibilities of self-awareness and yet we continue to deceive ourselves.
There is a great deal of morality in these primeval works of Michael Pettet. Like some modern day William Blake, Pettet is not only concerned with the ultimate essence of human existence but with the vanity of man. At a time when it is so fashionable to speak of the harm that man is doing to the planet, about the green house effect and the melting poles, one senses that it is Pettet’s intention to mock our pretensions. This is a planet that existed long before us and will continue to evolve long after we no longer plague its shores.
But while there is passion and rage in Pettet’s work there is also a quiet sympathy for the endeavors of man to register his existence, however futile, with his artistic expression and his philosophic contemplation. Our hearts are touched, and we can empathise at the thought of the gentle hands that shaped and moulded wax on the face of someone once loved but now deceased in an urgent and desperate attempt to record in the death mask contours of familiarity.
And yet Pettet ultimately is no different to those first artists who left records of their daily existence to our collective memory in the form of paintings on rocky cave walls. Like them he simply uses the most powerful tool of expression available to him from his time, the computer. He communicates in an attempt to connect with, and to touch our souls, in our newly constructed parallel, virtual reality. We text, we twitter, we create our social networks and we give homage to a newly deified Steve Jobs, but ours is the ultimate state of delusion, worse than any drug-induced stupor.
Despite all our efforts and endeavors in the Twenty-First Century, against the “impregnable” walls of our technological citadel, the tides continue to sound, crashing and eroding incessantly, bringing demise and a generational return to the earth and the layers from whence we came. It is useless to struggle, to resist the pull of nature, for:
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." (Genesis 3:19).
Dominic Simmons 2011