ANN ARBOR, Mich. — With four solo and nine group shows already under his belt since 2016, it might be tempting to say that Matthew Angelo Harrison is a kind of art-making machine. But it would be more accurate to say that the somewhat inscrutable artist makes machines that make art. Throughout the month of April and into May, Harrison has been at the University of Michigan Institute for Humanities, producing new machine-extruded works as a time-based performance in Abstract Ancestry: Machine Works on Paper. Harrison is the 2018 Efroymson Emerging Artist in Residence at the gallery.
The machine, entirely designed and built by Harrison out of 3D printing components, takes his ongoing work with abstraction in a different direction — both literally, by 3D-printing sculptural drawings that rise off the wall with each pass of the machine’s extruder tip, and in how he translates his ideas, which revolve around the cultural expressions of Africanism consumed by a tourist market. Using textile design programming, the printer reinterprets African tribal symbols, rendered in thick, textural lines of clay and acrylic paint, onto a heavily gessoed canvas (paper cannot support the weight of the material). The symbols of already dubious provenance become almost unidentifiable, building up layers of confusion and obscured meaning.