Luke Cornish, aka ELK, reveals who and what remains on the streets of East Aleppo, Syria. The juxtaposition of rubble, absence of the day-to-day life of communities and children within this apocalyptic landscape is not easy on the eye but urgent to be seen. By combining media (he now uses stencils and aerosol paint with photographic sublimation prints on aluminium) the artist is making a statement to ‘incorporate the personal, to the mechanical witness of the camera.’ His process enables a multi-layered affect that has a photorealistic quality; he uses heat to transfer dye onto his material, the dye becomes gaseous and penetrates the surface of the substrate becoming part of it, unlike a typical printing process.
On his most recent trip to Syria he spent time working with 40 kids aged between five and ten, organised with the help of UNICEF, drawing in pencil and texta. In another context he taught stencil art and can-control to children, fun for all involved but the experience drove home the reality that these kids have never known anything but war. So, for Cornish it was “nothing short of life changing… I’m drawn to engage with the world around me. You’re exposed to the horrors of war through the media ad nauseam, so it’s hard not to be affected and want to make a positive impact, how ever small it may be, on people’s lives who are living through this horrible conflict. I believe if art is going to change the world, we need to take it to the people that need it the most.” On the nature of a being a street artist in Syria Cornish recounted, “It’s quite a surreal experience. Painting unsanctioned work on the street usually gets your heart going, add to that soldiers with AK47’s patrolling and the sound of mortars… but the curious crowd of children and bystanders that congregate are usually interested and supportive.” He also painted a portrait of Khaled al Assad (1932-2015) on a roman amphitheatre in the ruins of Palmyra, an ancient city. Khaled was a curator of antiquities who hid the artefacts of his museum, knowing that they would be destroyed by conflict eradicating any signs of culture post AD500, he died protecting these artefacts. The amphitheatre was recently attacked; the artist plainly added, “I’m used to having my work destroyed on the street, blown up is something else.”
The exhibition title ‘Zeros to the left’ is inspired by the Arabic phrase ‘sifr il alyessar’, which in mathematics refers to the idea that any leading zero, to the left of a decimal point has no value. As such, in slang it is used as an insult to suggest a person has little or no consequence, a nobody or a non-entity. Cornish explained, that while he was aware the title ‘Zeros to the left’ might be misunderstood, his purpose, and the work which comprises the exhibition, point with empathy toward “the millions of innocent people caught in the middle of this conflict…I’m not saying that these people don’t matter, they do. I’m saying that they don’t matter, not to the people dropping barrel bombs and blowing up school buses full of children, or funding this proxy war from thousands of miles away.”
Cornish will be in conversation with Father Bob Maguire, a free event at the gallery on Saturday 15 July, 12-1pm.
10 July to 5 August, 2017