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mark houghton

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Mark Houghton is interested in everything. Not literally, but in a material and historic sense. Through his sculptures and installations he picks up the 'stuff' around us, the normal, the insignificant, the overlooked, and hands it back to us in some form that feels familiar and intriguing but, somehow, different. There is a relaxed formality to the work, immediately revealing a human intervention, but causing us to question whether this is simply the current point at which this transformation has arrived or if this is now a new permanent state. Mark refers to the '40,000 years of the activity of homo faber' (man, the maker), giving himself our entire history of tinkering, inventing, manipulating and adding to our environment from which to draw. The titles of the works, such as 'King' (2010), 'You Take the Weather With You' (2010), and 'Working Order' (2010), help position them back in to our world on a different level, becoming vehicles for an allusion to a very human place; a shifting of the hierarchy and control from 'man-made object' to objects that surround us and inform how we manoeuvre, as opposed to the other way round. This shift in our perceptions and relationship is key to the work's new function. They serve to, both, highlight and question the volume of the world around us, in all possible meanings of the word, and leave us back in a place where there is genuine wonder in the seemingly mundane.

S Mark Gubb  2011.

One of the perennial criticisms levelled at the white cube gallery is its dissociative relationship with the 'real world'. By minimizing any unnecessary detail, removing distractions and presenting a blank environment, the gallery isolates the artwork from the very source it came from. While this often gives the viewer a purer appreciation of works, it can also have the effect of distorting or diminishing the artwork's original intention. Mark Houghton's practice subtly reintroduces the real world to this rarefied environment via the back door, declaring that 'Nothing can exist in isolation'. 
The back door Houghton uses to effect this reintroduction is the vast messiness of unsorted memories and associations carried around in the viewer's head. As the practitioner, Houghton's part of the deal is to create a resonant object or configuration of objects; as the viewer we are asked to bring to his work our own personal encyclopaedic records that might give it meaning or significance. Of course, this relationship forms the basis of reading of any and all artworks that offer an interpretation of the world; but the unnerving experience of meeting Houghton's work seems somehow closer to reading an instruction manual in a foreign language, but with lovely diagrams.

Houghton's practice is a prime example of that which confounds any attempt at a conscious, logical reading. It requires a lateral shift in thinking to be appreciated, which is often kick-started by a 'key' element in the work. The series 'Where are we now' (2008-ongoing) shows fragments of domestic interiors, just enough to get a sense of the room we are only partly being shown. A large part of the image has been cut away along a rather theatrical or comical zigzag edge. The remaining periphery now becomes significant, and is supported by a suitably theatrical coloured wooden framework structure. Even though we are presented with just a fragment, it is apparent that the images are the sort of bland showroom interiors found in shopping catalogues or Sunday supplements. It is up to us how we complete this fragment: do we fill in the gaps? Do we make associations with rooms we once occupied ourselves? One thing is clear: Houghton has not provided a whole in composite parts. Finally, the merest shadow or disturbed bedlinen betrays the presence of a figure just outside the cut edge, and we find ourselves one step closer to Houghton's understanding of our world.

Chris Brown  2009

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