There are times in life when events break into your personal space before you can get out there and meet them: life implodes and you are forced to react. Peter Harris’s reaction to harrowing times seems to be to undertake an exorcism, firstly of the ghosts of these events and secondly of the demons they stir up. Just like the rest of us Harris has suffered the darts and arrows of bureaucratic formality, the irritating pomp of officialdom, the standard form whose tenor addresses the ‘perfect’ citizen and from which stance any deviation or flexibility is intolerable, or the telephone conversation with a bank official by whom any innovation or divergent solution can only be translated as a mental aberration. Such scenarios are the catalysts for Harris’s work in his show at Andrew Mummery – his painted ‘blown-up’ facsimiles of official application forms or licences, loans, hire agreements, etc. which are not what they at first appear to be. Giving vent to an anarchic streak, Harris has wreaked his revenge on these forms.

Deflated by rearranged wording and added satirical musing, these self-important documents have slumped into the realm of farce. The subtlety of these changes, however, allows them to maintain a superficial credibility which gives them a cruel paradoxical edge. The curious thing is that, although the meaning of the work in on these forms has been scrambled and nullified, and the context shifted, the format and style of the original is so ubiquitous and stereotypical and so ingrained in our collective psyche, that the original meanings have become indelible. As viewers we find ourselves reinstating them, and this is one of the most disquieting aspects of viewing this work.

These ‘official’ forms have become a series of veiled artists’ statements revealed only through the unravelling of the distortions which Harris has visited upon them. His anarchic interventions create little cameos of his persona – mercurial traces of his identity which plant their flags of victory over the now recumbent body of bureaucracy.

Roy Exley, Contemporary Visual Arts

Shown at:

Andrew Mummery Gallery, London
12 January – 13 February 1999