Stephan Berg, eyestorm, 2000

While British artist Tim Head's work encompasses installations, paintings, photography and works for public spaces, as well as light, slide and video projections, his concerns center unerringly on a world in which there is no meaning beyond the surface - only blank spaces and shifting shadows.

The positive uncertainty and double meaning inherent in his work was already evident in early exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (1972) and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1974). Using mirrors, light and slide projectors, Head created installations which shifted between fact and fiction, between virtual spaces and real rooms. After being included in 1977's major international survey exhibition Documenta VI, and representing Britain at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 1980, Head began to concentrate increasingly on photography and painting - more traditional media, which he nevertheless exploited in disturbing and innovative ways. His photoworks from 1987, for example Toxic Lagoon and Petrochemicaland, present poisonous chemical waste as dangerously seductive landscapes, while his paintings from that period - synthesized images of chromosomes and sperm, brains and breakfast cereal - suggest the possibility of modification and mutation in all things.

Works such as these communicate Head's love for the trivial and the trash of everyday life, material he incorporates into and then transforms through his art. The ironical optimism towards 'consumer reality' expressed in his earlier works - influenced by Pop artists Richard Hamilton, his tutor at Newcastle, and Claes Oldenburg, for whom he briefly worked as an assistant in New York - here gives way to a darker skepticism.

This more unnerving absence of meaning is reflected with particular clarity in his slide and video projections Exquisite Corpse and Pale Fire, both from 1994. Exquisite Corpse depicted idealized farm animal silhouettes punched with industrial holes, all of which were then overlayed so that the holes lined up: producing mutant organic forms where the silhouettes overlapped. A set of photographic prints were also made from these works.

In his large installations of the 90s - most importantly his 1992 exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, and Blue Skies (1997), a site-specific work created for the huge Historic Dockyard in Chatham, UK - one entered rooms which, despite their physical impact, seem virtual in the extreme. These are worlds, made up of artificial grass and fabricated flowers, in which it appears that any exploit can be painlessly mastered. But they also suggest that the enormous potential for imaginative play could get out of control at any time: with monstrous results.

Head's work articulates a general belief that the natural world can only be perceived in its 'untypical' form, through an artificial abstraction of an already artificial structure. The stage designs involving artificial trees that Head has produced recently, for the productions of renowned English choreographer Laurie Booth and the 'Peace' world tour by pop group the Eurythmics, have brought this vision to a wide audience.

For Head this conviction is not a source of despair but a motivation for his curiosity. Although his designs are dominated by a skeptical view of the world, one discovers in them, besides the desire to demystify appearances, the joy of indulging oneself in the elusive promises of the enticing surface.

Stephan Berg
© eyestorm