University: Falmouth University
Genre: Fine Art
Alexander Mourant presents work from the series Aurelian, which explores the interior space of British butterfly houses. These artificial environments are used throughout the work to probe the nature of experience, as an envisioned idea where time is not absolute, but continuously contained and all encompassing.
By employing cultural objects and contemporary abstraction, the work holds a dynamic tension—questioning one's spatial sense—stimulated through colour, form and materiality. Photographs of the accompanying cultural objects disseminate elements from the butterfly houses—by transferral of condensation—to either historic or contemporary vessels. Simultaneously, they explore a metaphysical connection whilst insisting on their separation. Alexander's photographs, though bold and unusual in colour, make visible a reality which is enduringly elusive and indescribable. They testify to their own reality and postulate another more concealed experience.
The work draws from a variety of personal sources, but most importantly, Alexander's four month sojourn through the heart of Africa. In a sense, each photograph is autobiographical, helping to decode the fabric of space, essentially how 'here' and 'there' is in a perpetual dialogue. This notion is again suggested by Alexander’s use of experimental, degraded and unused analog film from his travels through Africa. Reacting to light and temperature, these photographs in a sense cannot ‘perform’ without the assistance of their surrounding humid environment. They hold an atmosphere of growth. In doing so, the work continually hints at the authors own tropical desire amongst a fragmented recollection of the past. However, it may be more accurate to say through an open attentiveness this work hopes to encourage an aptitude of receptivity to others.
Photographed on Medium and Large Format analog film.
Kodak Portra 160 & 400 iso.
Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? I studied BA (Hons) Photography at Falmouth University (2013 - 2017) and I recently graduated a few weeks ago. I took a year of intermittence to work on an extensive editorial project with RAW Foundation.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? When I first visited Falmouth University I was very impressed by their facilities. That was the main factor which influenced my decision process, that and their highly achieving alumni.
The course has definitely influenced and enlightened my practice. The required process and intensive research led to some really interesting personal discoveries and a far greater understanding of the nature of photography. Furthermore, developing with my friends, now I should say contemporaries, is such an energising, inspiring and emotional balancing act. Seeing their work progress and strengthen is certainly one of the best standout moments.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? My practice is focused on ideas of experience, space and the metaphysical nature of photography. The work is often influenced from literature and the land art movement. However, the most crucial part of my process stems from experience — with photography as a tool — my practice probes and decodes the nature of this enigma.
Explain to us how you made this work? Did you enjoy the process? What equipment did you use? This work was produced over consecutive visits to many butterfly houses throughout the UK. I was lucky as there is a location just outside Plymouth, in Buckfastleigh, just under two hours away which I initially visited. I used these first interactions to explore thoughts I was having but couldn't quite verbalise, or even, visualise. I probably revisited this site about twenty times, often spending six hours there during any one visit. On reflection the drive, whilst sometimes arduous, was actually an essential part of the process. I do a lot of contemplating about my work, the drive acted like a space of clarity, or a period of time where I could question what, where and why.
For the first three months my work was exclusively shot on my Wista 45. I employed any out of date film I could get my hands on. Often the process of setting up my tripod, camera and dark slides in a bright, hot and humid space (such as the butterfly house) would be extremely aggravating. It was at times incredibly frustrating, often I’d shoot only four negatives and drive back to Falmouth, process and scan to find nothing had come to fruition. It was only when I had unlearnt previous techniques, loosened my control on the outcome, did interesting accidents and images begin to appear.
Does photographic theory ever influence your work? Yes, it pervades the work.
The colour studies suggested through my work should not be disregarded as a folly or indulgence of aesthetic, there resides a stronger theoretical origin. Vilém Flusser questions the integrity of photographs, highlighting concerns on perceptivity and the role of genuine colours within this system - “The ‘more genuine’ the colours of the photograph become, the more untruthful they are, the more they conceal…”.
One could argue the subjective nature of experience and memory, alongside individual photographic processes, lends itself naturally to be represented through a spectrum of a shifting myriad of colours. Thus, colour is a coded concept, unique to each being, such as reality. As I recall, Gerhard Richter commented on his abstract canvases, “You realise that you can’t represent reality at all – that what you make represents nothing but itself, and therefore is itself reality”. My photographs, though bold and unusual in colour, make visible a reality which is enduringly elusive and indescribable. They do not attempt to copy painting. They testify to their own reality and postulate another more concealed experience. As Flusser suggests, my photographs do not imitate what we expect the real to be, but with a wild and reckless abandon of colour towards a world of their own.
What initially inspired you to make Aurelian? Aurelian has its roots in an extensive editorial project called Cairo to Cape Town: Africa’s Plastic Footprint. For four months, I travelled throughout Africa with RAW Foundation in a 4x4, documenting the shifting cultural and geographical landscape. As a practitioner, I became engaged with the recollection of memory after returning from Africa, or rather, I became concerned by its fading resonance. I was imbued with an intense desire for the tropical; the familiar, since returning, had become unfamiliar. I sought not to simply photograph, but to explore through this desire, the time and space in which I found myself. For me, the British butterfly house acts as the backdrop for conceptual and historical investigation of experience.
What would you like for your viewer to learn from this series? Since returning from Africa, I find it curious to witness my shifting interests as a practitioner; most notably, my disinterest in producing documentary imagery. Essentially, after trial and error, I realised that only through abstract and conceptual art could I begin to grasp or represent my ideas. The photographs I make, whether abstract or realist, are all triggers which function either consciously or sub-consciously, perpetuating my ideas through the very act of creation. Ultimately, I’d say through an open attentiveness this work hopes to encourage an aptitude of receptivity to others.
You mention that after returning from a trip your "familiar had become unfamiliar". Can you explain how this evolved into Aurelian? I believe my statement extends as a paradox, meaning change and disassociation with place, rolls reversed, essentially, England turned Africa and Africa turned England. When I returned home I starting photographing my family, which I never normally do. I focused on my Grandad’s vegetable garden, photographing things in an attempt to create a kind of artistic documentation of a person through his habitual place of being. Simultaneously, I was reading Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. The book presents a dystopian nightmare, where a plague of blindness befalls the world, and a plant species takes control. “Growing things seemed, indeed, to press out everywhere, rooting in the crevices between the paving stones, springing from cracks in concrete, finding lodgements even in the seats of the abandoned cars. On all sides they were encroaching to repossess themselves of the arid spaces that man had created” (231). I related this organic encroachment to my Grandad’s greenhouses, they were too cracking and withdrawing slowly into history. This idea grew and the greenhouses gradually became a grander metaphor for experience and memory.
Tell us about your trip to Japan? What are you doing there? There are certain aspects which naturally attracted me to Japan; evidently the history of art, culture and aesthetic tradition was a great contributor to this curiosity. I feel I have developed a new kind of process, a way of researching and approaching photography which I am eager to develop in Japan. I expect my work will be more refined in terms of style — my subject matter coherent, whilst sustaining a visual ambiguity. It’s difficult to pin point where it might lead, but I feel an attraction to forests and inner cities. I am certain about further addressing how my abstract work is related to a kind of phenomenology, space and spirituality, which evidently prevails or even originates from Japan. However, I find it important to find a depth in the work, both aesthetically and theoretical.