Alvin Booth: Come to your senses!

©Peter Hamilton 2013

The evolution of an artist is a process that makes sense in reverse, to paraphrase Soren Kierkergaard. Yet the success of a decision to move from one realisation of that artistry to another cannot be judged at the time. It is a risk that only the future, (that honest and enlightened judge who always, alas, delivers his verdict too late), will know if it has worked. 

For Alvin Booth the move from photography — where he has carved out his own successful niche for the last quarter century — to making what are essentially sculptural forms and conceptual art might seem to be a sudden paradigm shift in his artistic trajectory. On further examination, however, this change of media reveals itself to be a logical development. 

Booth has, from his earliest attempts, been both a visualizer and maker of art about the body in general, and about sensuality more specifically. His photographs were never just "taken" but always "made" - not least in the sense of being both physical objects of great beauty and craft in their own right, often containing or using some objects or devices constructed by him, from the ornate frames in which they appeared to the materials through which the bodies of his models expressed the artist's and their own sensualism. 

Surprising as it may seem, such physicality remains present even in his most conceptual of new work, the auditory "Err...". It is in how the non-sense of phatic utterance is transmitted via ears (literally ear-phones) whose forms were cast from those individuals most likely to emit precisely the types of noises out of which the work is created - and whose poignancy derives from the fact that this fragment of conceptualism was made by an artist whose own hearing has proved to be all too physically fallible. 

"Err..." might seem at a far remove from the joy of sex and sensuality which lies at the heart of Booth's work - visualised by the breasts, pudenda, penises et al that form its content and which are an expression of human sociability at its most embodied and sometimes most angst ridden. Yet when the anthropologist Malinowski coined the term phatic expression he did so to express those sounds that are rationally incomprehensible but socially meaningful, and thus important to sociability.

In the last analysis, art is not about the medium in which it is made, but the way in which its form expresses meaning and communicates feeling. By taking his work into new realms of sense and sensuality, Booth has expanded his own repertoire not simply for expressing his fascination with the body and physicality in all their aspects, but also to comment upon where our highly technological and rationalised civilisation is taking us in the use and enjoyment of our own sensuality. 

How many accumulated centuries have been spent by millions of nameless "clients" on their analysts' couches since Freud "enlightened" modern women and men to the hidden meanings of their inner demons? Booth's most recent work helpfully includes a device that will obviate the need for the contemporary person to recount their phallic subjugation or envy — for his penis couch provides them with a Procrustean bed of standard size for all their fantasies, upon which they can also sit to feed themselves with some of his other works, such as nipple madeleines, or slices of vagina cake, while watching the breast candelabra.

The variety and inventiveness of this work is both a continuation and a new beginning for Booth. It uses light and the body, both tropes central to his photography, and adds to them a sort of bricolage of new and old technologies (some of the works have even gone so far as to fight back and injure him in their making). It expresses his fascination with making slightly disturbing constructions and juxtapositions of body parts and mechanical objects. Though frequently given a comedic air, there may also be a more profound and serious message behind the games being played in this work. Contemporary society and its culture — Booth is surely saying to us — is one that disembodies and disconnects, changing longing and love into the interplay of sex organs, maternal care into infanticide, physical beauty into cancerous breast implants, and youthful bodies into failing ones. And all for what? Let us come to our senses!