Ash Thorp: Nascent - An Exhibition Statement by Sunny Cheung

There is a code that we all attempt to unravel for ourselves over a lifetime, it is the feeling that stirs within us feelings of passion and courage, but it can also take us out of balance, into the giddy realms of excess and obsession – it is an emotion called happiness.

Codes and puzzles are a prevalent feature in Thorp’s work, and like the contents offered up by the happiness pills, each riddle that we solve, each visual cue we resolve in turn rewards us with an instant hit of dopamine. Aesthetically Thorp’s cohesive body of work has a distinct timeless quality to it, a stark monochrome aesthetic with flashes of gold influenced by his knowledge of art history, design aesthetics and popular culture. His artistic works are vividly rendered with a realism achieved through a life of honing both traditional artistic skills but also the excellence embedded by his commercial motion graphics practice, a maximal level of quality that is expected from the Hollywood film industry.

The role of science fiction can be felt throughout the Nascent series with references to the design aesthetic found in Japanese anime such as Akira (1988) and Ghost in the Shell (1995) for instance. Growing up in the era of Richard D. James and Warp Records, we could also perhaps observe not only the aural but also visual legacy of innovators like Chris Cunningham and his music video output for Autechre and most important of all his video for Bjork’s All is full of love (1999).

Thorp’s works contain the symbols of technologies past, and science fiction film lore, and a splash of steampunk. But their starkly rendered beauty would be empty shells without the larger stories of love, loss and fate that they tell. So in this sense the diptychs also warrant a comparison to the Dave McKean produced Sandman comic book covers, which set the tone and ambiance to the Neil Gaiman penned tales of love and tragedy contained within.

The works initially appear to announce ill omens yet if we investigate further, we can often extract symbols of hope and redemption embedded within them. Take Following as an example, we see that the helmet connected to the sculptural torso is seemingly inspired by the Wagenfeld WA24 (1924) “Bauhaus” lamp. Although the social media system of today binds us to the quest for unending likes, the lamp like shell enclosing the head appears to be a mask, obscuring our vision. But on the other hand it hints at a possible future where we can once again be illuminated. In Bliss and Balaclava, the symbols of death and oblivion are counteracted by the 3.5” computer disk drive which could be read as signals relating to memories but also the act of loading comes with it possibilities of reinvention. Rebirth is also signified by the revelation of the hidden cicada as the video clip revolves.

Thorp’s Nascent series offers us tales of contradictions, of dichotomies and polarisations which reveal the crises inherent in human nature. These very binaries encoded as a fundamental truth in the digital computers that drive the very fabric of contemporary culture, the indivisible “bit” in each computer that works by signalling only the 1 of truth or 0 of falsehood.

Arthur C Clarke famously said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. But Niven’s law is the inverse, "Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology." It’s all just a matter of perspective. Thorp’s works explore what happens when the engineer and the shaman collide – when the rational and the dream world meet.

About the Author

Sunny Cheung is a curator with over 10 years of exhibitions experience in the international contemporary art and design fields with a particular specialism in commissioning, collecting and presenting innovative contemporary digital art and design practices. He is currently a Curator at M+, the new museum of visual culture in Hong Kong. Previous curatorial projects include Song Dong: Waste Not, Rain Room and Digital Revolution for Barbican Art Gallery, London; Values of Design for Design Society, Shenzhen and Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and he was on the curatorial team that produced the Liverpool Biennial 2018 and 2021 editions.