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Review: Alexander Massouras's Divers

Alexander Massouras's 'Divers' series grounded me for a good while in Newcastle's Laing Art Gallery. On the long ride home to Amble, I continued to think of states of suspended animation. Not least of all my own, seated but moving, positioned on gaudy upholstery, body jerking obediently to the bell's toll as head by head passengers disembarked.

Alexander Massouras, Diver, 2009.

Once home, I set about finding more about the artist. His graphite and watercolour images are very different to the etchings at the Northern Print Biennale but just as sparse, documenting the infinity of a split second in time. A figure springs from an unseen diving board over the outline of a pool which at first glance, appears to be a void. Within the bounds of a given canvas, a human leaps into the abyss, a dream-like space of uncertainty, an image in which time itself is halted. There's an eerie sense of spectatorship. We are cross-fingered watching the Olympics. We are red eyed, poolside teenagers watching the skinny boys in Speedos from down the street bomb bravely, beautifully into the abyss.  We are gasping, waiting for them to emerge in a riot of absurd pleasure as they run - slow  down lads - up the ladders to do it all again. We are in suburbia, heavy footed and laden with the sharpness of a full carrier bag on a streetlight lit night as a troubled but determined voice screams from a rooftop. I'll do it, you just fucking watch me. 

Alexander Massouras, Somersault with Tuck, 2009.

Those with black backgrounds strike me as falling nightmares or flying dreams, depending on your lucidity. The kind where you can suddenly fly out of the bedroom window and become an owl, overlooking the familiar mice of your home town, out to the Yorkshire moors and onto the sea at night. Like any good dream, Massouras strikes a fine balance between humour and beauty, control and helplessness. Between the elegant composition of the leaping body and its minuteness against the back-cloth, there is something a little obscene about all the tight Lycra bathing suits and smooth, plastic-y swimming caps. Those goggles make for an insectile look, sans wings. Humans are reduced to free falling midges. 

Alexander Massouras, Swan Dive, 2009.

Alexander Massouras, Swan Dive, 2009.

When I look at these artworks I see anxiety dreams. They are poised upon the surreal, upon a rhythmic elegance and the remoteness of the fall. A life flashes before eyes. Like the photographs of those poor bodies falling from the towers during 9/11, the sight of such falls are at once completely familiar and yet alien, charged with the expectation of gravity. 

Alexander Massouras, One and a Half Somersaults Forward, 2009.

On a concrete grey canvas, these hypnagogic images place a pool's outline within the space around it, freed from the complications of context. We think of water's potential to encompass skin with a velvety fluidity. Cool, sensual and supportive, water can float us or sink us. Or falling from certain heights, we can hit water as if it were asphalt, shattering bones. With multiple pieces named 'Swan Dive', these menacing frames of frozen velocity are a snapshot of the swan song, charged with sublimity. What do you see?



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