Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry: Rewind

Lee 'Scratch' Perry | Volker Schaner | Maria Saragodschi

Lee 'Scratch' Perry: Rewind

with films by Volker Schaner and works by Maria Sargarodschi

Curated by Verity Seward

Born out of a 20-year collaboration with filmmaker Volker Schaner and artist Maria Sargarodschi, Lee 'Scratch' Perry: Rewind is a retrospective of the Jamaican music producer’s visual art. The exhibition explores the concept of ‘rewind’ - an analogue process in dub music, and a philosophical movement in Rastafari thinking, which seeks to undo society's evils and start from ‘Scratch’. Making frequent visits to Perry’s studio in the Swiss Alps since 1999, Schaner and Sargarodschi have played a key role in documenting the enigmatic figure’s artistic process and channeling his creativity into new mediums. Viewers are invited to reflect on the proposition of turning back time and erasing established ways of thinking - particularly as that relates to our understanding of art and how it is displayed in a commercial space.

Perry considers his process to be more akin to ‘magick’ than ‘art’ - resistant to the finality and commercially driven focus of traditional art-making. In his studio, he surrounds himself with occult objects, Rastafari paraphernalia, a vast archive of computer texts in his own spelling, and - most arrestingly - obsessively repeated images of himself. These items are integrated into shrine-like assemblages and reshuffled across the studio walls as he works to accumulate a museum of his own life. Through a series of site-specific installations, the exhibition adopts Perry’s way of engaging with the world, presenting his creative universe as an immersive totality rather than focusing on individual works.

Inside the Studio Control Room (2019), a tapestry of photos, objects, and artworks transport the viewer into an exclusive zone. Banknotes, bibles, and kitsch objects are combined with pictures of Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey. The mingling of religious, pop-culture and political items deconstruct and recompose received meanings. Surrounding this, alchemistic assemblages of shells, mirrors, stones, and vegetables are reconstructed. The ‘vibrations’ of each piece are recorded by microphones which feed into a central tape deck, mixed with Perry’s unreleased songs Rewind My Mind and Cool Walk (2001) and audio recordings of him clashing stones. Perry’s daily artistic rituals take on a pseudo-metaphysical quality; he views his studio as a vehicle which can transport ‘his’ people back to Africa - the promised land, and into a new ‘future without problems’.

Perry’s mode of creating never fixes anything into a single object. Rather, his process is perpetually evolving with an emphasis on collaboration, layering and remix that is at the heart of dub music. When Sargarodschi first met Perry in 2014, she gave him a canvas and brushes, and together they began to work on large-scale works. Incorporating the objects they find around them - spliffs, stones, water bottles and plastic toys - each canvas is intrinsically linked with its surrounding environment, valuing the process of creating over an attachment to artistic conventions. Likewise, in her personal works, Sargarodschi, deeply inspired by contemporary art movements juxtaposes industrial objects and household items to create mysterious sculptures. In Nest (2018-2019), she incorporates the elementary form of the egg to provoke a sense of nostalgia or rebirth. Degradable organic matter is petrified in time through a unique formula of wax and resin.

By contrast, photography and video footage by Schaner evidence how Perry’s work is textured by the passing of time. His installations are left to decay, tarnish, and rust in the open-air. Further projections and photos show the couple’s involvement in rebuilding the Swiss studio after it burned in 2014. In their blackened state, salvaged remains are reintegrated into new collages by Sargarodschi with Perry’s interventions. This cyclical motion of destruction and reconstruction interrupts linear trajectories of time and challenges us to question the finality of an artwork.

Meanwhile, Schaner’s films capture the chronology of Perry’s art-making through a series of short performance exercises which they have developed since the late 90s. The evolving relationship between performer and filmmaker has a ritualistic quality, reproducing itself like an endless corridor of mirrors. Schaner brings his own perspective as a filmmaker,  bearing witness to the particularities of Perry’s activities with no mandate or quest for meaning. Through film, photography, painting and installation, the exhibition brings together the three artists individual intentions framed through the lens of ‘rewind’. Ultimately, the responsibility is placed on the viewer to understand what it means to recontextualize Perry, a living artwork, within the gallery space. Text by Verity Seward

© 2020 by Verity Seward