We may be familiar with the most notorious psychedelic drugs – psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, MDMA – but it’s easy to underestimate the force with which simple kitchen supplies can alter our minds. Latent power hides in heaped spoonfuls of nutmeg or just a shred of a ghost pepper; rye grain is an occasional host for ergot, a fungus producing a crude strain of LSD, whose resulting psychosis and delirium are rumoured to have provoked the hysteria of the 1692 Salem witch trials. On a more accessible shelf, a taste of what we repress, forget or desire will inflame a synaesthesia as bold as any Class A drug or a recipe from The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (1954).
Deeply hued powders – the fiery orange of dried turmeric, the garnet of sumac shavings, the sedative periwinkle of crushed borage petals – have been smeared into the paint on the surface of Derya Akay’s Belvedere Lath and Plexi Lath (both 2016–17), formed from slatted wooden and acrylic planes with wilting or dried rose petals resting in their cracks. The laths are remnants of Akay’s apartment in Vancouver, which was devastated by flooding; the daubs float across the panels’ horizontal slats like the counting nodes on an abacus, recording the missing contents of his home. They also mirror the wall structure of Del Vaz Projects, the apartment-gallery where the exhibition is staged across two adjacent bedrooms. On the floor of both rooms sit Vessels for Nicole (2015): roughly textured, heavy ceramic vases holding bouquets of delicate, drooping eucalyptus leaves, snaking chartreuse amaranth and sunny poppies.
Text borrowed from Akay’s book of automatic prose, A Flower as a Poem (2016), which alternates between the absurdist concatenations of dada and surrealism and more legibly composed lines, appears in translucent streams, inscribed on acetate scrolls suspended from the ceiling over the apartment’s narrow bed, as if intended for leisurely assessment. ‘Sober words they speak in tones of / purple and sweet / they are over spilt milk with care / and / confusion’, reads one cursive scrawl, repeated over several mounted pages. The words are frantically overlain in a vibrant spectrum of ink, watercolour and beeswax. Poetry Painting with Tray (2016–17), a sculpture of aromatic cedar, Douglas fir and other patchworked exotic woods – including those native to the area near Akay’s adopted city of Los Angeles – contains more printed pages and loose flowers, as well as T-shirts decorated with insects, indigo and various husks and leaves sourced from his garden.
Visiting a familiar place can easily elicit conflicting emotions, evoking immediate tactile memories as well as retrospective recollections. Here, the intimate exchange between exhibition space and artist – in which Akay literally colours the framework of one household with remnants of another – does not so much shed a metaphorical layer of skin, as the exhibition’s title ‘PUMICE’ suggests, as welcome the visitor, inviting them to shoulder off their coat and stay for a closer look.
Lead image: Derya Akay, Belvedere Lath (detail), 2016-17, wood, plaster, paint, rose petals, amaryllis, borage, turmeric, sumac, paprika. Courtesy: the artist
First published in Issue 186