Mark Morrisroe (Open Eye Gallery)
19 Mann Island, Liverpool, L3 1BP • September 15 – November 25, 2012
The performance artist, filmmaker and photographer Mark Morrisroe was an instrumental figure in the 1970s’ Boston punk scene. Mark Morrisroe’s brief life story – he died aged just 30 of an AIDS-related illness in 1989 – reads like a Dennis Cooper novel. Morrisroe became a male prostitue at 15, using the name Mark Dirt, and when he was 17 one of his clients shot him, leaving a fragment of bullet permanently lodged in his back. He used X-Rays of his torso throughout his work, the black spot of the bullet fragment creating a personal memento mori, which is also, perhaps, a shout of defiance in the face of death.
© The Estate of Mark Morrisroe (Ringier Collection) at Fotomuseum Winterthur
At art school in Boston, Morrisroe was a prize-winning student as well as a drag performer and founder of the underground magazine Dirt. His photographic work continued and developed a punk aesthetic – his use of Polaroid as a medium that can be manipulated, scrawled upon, and drawn on, retains a particularly raw quality found in the work of artists such as Nan Goldin, a friend of Morrisroe’s. Like Goldin, Morrisroe took many photographs of himself, his friends, and people who just happened to drop by, documenting a milieu in New York and Boston that was wildly creative and not bound by commercial considerations.
The Homotopia festival, in partnership with the Liverpool Biennial and Open Eye Gallery, are presenting the first ever show of Morrisoe’s work in the UK. They have chosen to focus on photograms made in the last few years of Morrisoe’s life. Photograms are produced by placing objects on top of photographic paper, and exposing it to light. The quality of the resulting image depends on the transparency and layering of the objects. Morrisroe often chose to use the ephemera of everyday life – plastic bottles, pictures cut out of magazines and, most notably, images, adverts and text from porno mags.
Apparently, Morrisroe sometimes worked in a makeshift darkroom set up in his hospital bathroom to create these photograms. Objects, bodies and text all become see-through, or silhouetted and reversed, even negativised, and, as a result, the vulnerability of things is emphasized. The colours are often garish, often degraded, like faded club flyers and vintage porn. The porn bodies, male and female, are written over and manipulated until they are both celebrated and degraded. Morrisroe seems to revel in the transgressive whilst also being aware of its transience.
In ‘Time to Fuck’ (1987) an advertisement for a watch is laid over thumbnails of gay porn: “Every 30 seconds,” the text reads, ”(2880 times a day) this unique and stylish watch will flash TIME TO FUCK on the dial face.” This stark division of time and its link with sex creates a uniquely modern memento mori, especially when you realise Morrisore was bravely documenting his own illness at the same time as making this work, exposing his now emaciated body to the same scrutiny as the beautiful body of his early twenties.
On the 22nd November, there will be a special screening of Morrisoe’s rarely seen Super-8 films, The Laziest Girl in Town (1981), Hello from Bertha (1983) and Nymph-O-Maniac (1984). According to Homotopia, ‘These underground home movies are filled with thrift-store costumes, cheapo gore, trashy dialogue and gratuitous nudity, starring Morrisroe and his friends as performers”. If the photograms and photographs are anything to go by these films will be an invaluablerecord of a particular time and of individual lives that are long gone but well-worth remembering through exposure to a wider audience.
Mark Morrisroe: Super-8 Films
22 November, 7pm
FACT, Wood Street, L14DQ