Graham Murtough


Resisting Development / Resisting Ruin 

Site Specific Installation for Shunpike Storefront in Seattle, WA, USA.

The sculptures in this installation have been made over the past six months while living in Grays Harbor.  My research focused on the early industrial development of the Ballard Locks, disused timber mills, construction sites, and the rural landscape.  Despite the Northwest’s immense economic growth in the past ten years, the need for vital regeneration in some rural communities is apparent.  The once thriving timber industry has left behind a legacy of infrastructure, ghost buildings and transit hubs.  While I do not pretend to offer any conclusions in this small body of work, I do intend to explore some of the conflicting impressions of past and present life in the Northwest.  Fractures in the landscape like fractures in the structural ruins of an industry, refer to a dislocated sense of community as experienced within a global society.  At times belonging, connecting and exchanging on dynamic level.  Other times feeling out of place, as if nowhere is quite familiar enough to call home.   The use of reflective materials in my work has come to symbolize resistance and visibility.  In this context, it refers to a sense of resisting obscurity while shining through the adversity of endless new developments.


In February 2017, 'The Relative Value of Convention II'  was selected for "Exceptional" The Collyer Bristow Graduate Award Exhibition.  Recreating this site specific installation for a new location was an exciting challange.  It allowed new aspects of the work to emerge, accentuating the sweeping motion that defines it while propelling the viewer closer to it; due to the restrictions and function of the corridor. The environment itself, a law office where many clients who enter are already facing challenges and new circumstance, are confronted with a physical gesture of upheaval.  This is overriden by a fresh and thriving living plant that lends a sense of hope and lightness to the recent collapse of circumstance.


In April and May of 2017, I was an artist in residence at Heima, a residency program in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland.  As part of the residency we were given the use of an old fish factory.  The building and its relationship to the fjord, the elements, and the local community; served as an inspiration for a body of work that included 33 works on paper, 5 found object assemblages, and 1 site specific installation.  I observed a sense of resistance to the forces of nature and visibility played a key role in this.  This idea was the focus of my expoloration.


'The Relative Value of Convention' is the name that I have given the work in my recent MA degree show and it refers to the implicit violence of our accepted cultural values and unquestioned social norms.


The ever-obsessive drive towards new urban development and expansion is an example of this violence, and has become a particular preoccupation of mine. As we face environmental catastrophe, I find the two are completely at odds, and the dissonance is observably remarkable.  I use some of the visual language of the construction site to refer to this stark absurdity.


In many of the works I create there is a sense that an event has already taken place, and I am interested in creating a kind of material and affective aftermath.  A protrusion or upright beam for example, resembling the gesture of a fist pump, a blocking arm or an erection creates an upward motion and is used to conjure associations with a certain kind of resistance, power or even pleasure. I also use architectural references like the lower concrete blocks that serve as the foundation of the piece.  These resemble defunct and abandoned bunkers with slanted impressions that may have once served as entrances.  For me, the blocks are faltering defences cracking and corroding under the weight of their ambition.  The concrete shards refer to the structure in the ceiling of the gallery where the work was on show.  I wanted the installation to have a relationship to the space it was presented in and focused on the triangular supports in the ceiling.  I imagined them filled with concrete, forming a slab that would then suddenly fall to the ground.  This would represent a fallen ideal, collapsing and interrupting our daily life. The vibrant plants serve as a living return to civility, carrying with them a sense of optimism after the destruction.


This assemblage of works aims to create an environment where the viewer can experience conflicting sensations, where there is protection, interruption and exclusion all at once.  I mean to challenge the possibility of resolution.  Instead, I aim to create a kind of material tension, a physical dissonance and unease, one that stems from the knowledge of impending catastrophe while we just ‘carry on’.