INTERFERENCE1: Mark Houghton

Posted on: 01 Aug 2013 by Gordon Dalton

INTERFERENCE1: Mark Houghton

Some kind of…?

There is a scene in the excellent cringe fest that is Metallica’s Some Kind of Monster that somehow manages to top all others for toe curling awkwardness.  Filmed during the thrash metal behemoths meltdown, rehab and therapy, we are flies on the wall as the band try and recoup some past glories and friendships.

Metallica founder, expensive art loving drummer, Lars Ulrich, is berating lead singer/guitarist, James ‘Papa Het’ Hetfield as they try out new riffs for the album. Leaning over the drum kit, trying and failing not to be condescending, he declares his opinion on Hetfield’s riffage (which sounds like King Kong wrestling a Transformer, ie monstrously good).

“You know? It sounds too stock. It sounds too normal to me."

Hetfield, writer of some of the most brutal heavy metal riffs ever, is aggrieved at being called ‘too stock’, but for once, perhaps Ulrich was right, he wanted better, he wanted more, he wanted it to be the best it could possibly be.

Worryingly, this came to mind when visiting Mark Houghton on day two of his week-long studio residency in Chapter’s Stiwdio. Perhaps it was because the space resembled a music recording studio (it’s a dance rehearsal space), or maybe that Houghton looks a little, if you squint and stand on one leg, like a clean living Papa Het, minus the billion dollar record sales and tattoos.

Dotted around the black walled space were bits of this and bobs of that. Seemingly random lengths of coloured wood leant this way and that, a deflated football sat painfully in the corner, trying its hardest to look arty. A pair of railings had been freshly spray painted black, with parts picked out in a fetching pink and a startling Cerulean blue. Detritus was dotted around, along with work tools, table tops and chairs. Ledges were covered in dust, but had finger marks, scratches and when it comes to object based sculpture, the obligatory odds of BluTak and ends of masking tape.

It may have only been day two, but it all looked ‘too stock’. I told him this. He didn’t disagree. What it looked like was the sum of its influences, and a whole lot more like ‘stock’ object based sculpture that seems to be achingly fashionable at the moment. Artists such as Richard Tuttle, John Armleder, Iain Kiaer and Richard Wentworth are obvious (and excellent) touchstones, but there is a growing tendency for work that knows little of the intricacies of such artists’ work, preferring, or perhaps not knowing it looks like a bad cover version of a something they’ve seen in an art magazine. If I see another painted stick leant artfully against a wall, or a couple of found objects ‘in conversation’ with each other, I may have to commit a crime. I don’t want to do that.

I need not have worried. By the end of the week, Houghton had refined his touch, set his sights higher. His influences had been used as stepping-stones, learning lessons, paying reference not only to art, but to the everyday stuff of real life, of overlooked simple pleasures. Earlier in the week, his aim had been off, with darts bouncing off the wire. Here, through practice and a well-practiced eye, he was hitting lots of bulls-eyes and double tops. He wanted better, he wanted more, he wanted it to be the best it could possibly be.

Attached to the black wall, what looks like chair leg could be a walking aid, a weapon or a primitive instrument. It has a lick of pink paint along one edge and the effect is electric. It looks like neon, not from Vegas or Sunset Strip, but from one of the takeaways on nearby Cowbridge Road. On the floor, a giant version of the same shape balances on one edge, like a dinosaur bone or a model for a modernist bridge. The railings and the football remain, but have found their place in the space. They look like they belong.

The overall effect is like being in a giant pinball machine, with Houghton’s thoughtfully composed works acting as magnets, pulling you around the space. The following week, I notice a lot more ‘stuff’ around me, surely the means test for such work.

I mention the Metallica quote about guitar riffs again to Houghton. He says he is a drummer anyway. It explains a lot. Playing on the offbeat, Houghton is trying to find new grounds in which to play in. It doesn’t look stock.

Gordon Dalton is an artist. He writes and curates under the banner of Mermaid & Monster. He is Project Manager for Art Across The City, Swansea.


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