Lee “Scratch” Perry at Haus zur Liebe

Artist: Lee “Scratch” Perry

Curated by: Lorenzo Bernet

Venue: Haus zur Liebe, Schaffhausen, Switzerland

Date: December 8, 2018 – January 13, 2019

Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Haus zur Liebe, Schaffhausen

At Haus zur Liebe, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry delivers his very own rendition of a Christmas exhibition with a dissentious take on the customary ‘Weihnachtsausstellung,’ the annual year-end conciliatory ritual of many European Kunsthallen and Kunstvereine.

Comprising new sculpture, collage-painting and free-word poetry rife with motifs that permeate Perry’s body of recorded work, the show chimes with Perry’s individual recasting of Christian cosmology arranged with the guidance of Obeah, the prevalent Caribbean folk magic said to derive from the Akan culture of West Africa, with a shamanic antipathy to perceived falsehoods of religious doctrine and those who misuse faith for nefarious ends.

One of the major forces in the development of reggae music and the related dub form, Perry is an iconic figure in the history of 20th century pop culture. While his myth-enshrouded musical legacy has led to his current expatriate life in rural Switzerland, nevertheless, Perry remains a complex and contradictory figure, not easy to unravel. Born in a remote Jamaican village in 1936, Perry’s formative years were defined by his mother’s practice of Ettu, a Yoruba tradition that centers on communication with ancestral spirits. In 1961 he moved to Kingston to pursue music after a divine voice directed him there.

Despite a lack of formal musical training, Perry has been active in every major change of musical style on the island, including nurturing Bob Marley’s career in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before the musician’s international stardom. In 1973, Perry opened the Black Ark recording studio at his home as a place of refuge for followers of Rastafari, the Afrocentric religion that venerates Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia as a living incarnation of Christ. The related Black Art record label established by Perry referenced the “Black Arts of Obeah” that may have been employed in the music’s creation, especially the ‘unfinished’ futuristic dub music based on cut-and-mix sonic collages.

By 1977 at the peak of the Ark’s musical output, Perry started painting occult symbols on vinyl records planted in the studio grounds, plastering the studio walls with his handprints and ominous written proclamations. During the following years the site of the recording studio and its surroundings transformed into a synesthetic environment, developing a Byzantine shrine-like visuality, which corresponded with his virtuous production technique and musical motifs (mostly being made elsewhere since the space became dilapidated). Word, sound and image merged into one. As poetic afflatus became increasingly more important than audio recordings, Perry began painting all remaining surfaces with spiritual graffiti in his new guise as Pipecock Jackxon. Eschewing music production to concentrate on bricolage and art objects, Perry became a wandering nomad after setting fire to the Black Ark studio in 1983, re-surfacing in Switzerland in 1989, now his permanent home base.

Perry’s output has since taken the form of multi-layered clusters that continually shift and change. At his Swiss mountainside studio (dubbed the Blue Ark), the artist creates an ever-expanding network of paradisal animals, cartoon figures and saints using paint, mirrors, rocks, photographs, video and computer-transmitted word-association poems. The once sonically collaged echo space is now fully realized as a glue encrusted picture-pantheon of layers upon layers – dub in manifest form, echoing ad infinitum in a ceaseless quest to venerate the Almighty.

Press text by David Katz

The genie says build a studio. I build
a studio from ash. I make it out of peril and slum
things. I alone when blood and bullet and all
Christ-fucking-’Merican-dollar politicians talk
the pressure down to nothing, when the equator’s
confused and coke bubbles on tinfoil to cemented wreath.
I build it, a Congo drum, so hollowed through the future
pyramids up long before CDs spin away roots-men knocking down by the
like captives wheeling by the Kebar River. The genie says build
a studio, but don’t take any fowl in it, just electric.
So I make it, my echo chamber with shock rooms of rainbow
King Arthur’s sword keep in, and one for the Maccabees
alone, for covenant is bond between man and worm.
Next room is Stone Age, after that, Iron, and one I
named Freeze, for too much ice downtown in the brains
of all them crossing Duke Street, holy like parsons.
And in the circuit breaker, the red switch is for death
and the black switch is for death, and the master switch
is black and red, so if US, Russia, China, Israel
talk missiles talk, I talk that switch I call Melchizedek.
I build a closet for the waterfalls. One for the rivers.
Another for oceans. Next for secrets. The genie says build
a studio. I build it without gopher wood. Now, consider
the nest of bees in the cranium of the Gong, consider
the nest of wasps in the heart of the Bush Doctor,
consider the nest of locusts in the gut of the Black Heart Man,
I put them there, and the others that vibrate at the Feast of the Passover
when the collie weed
is passed over the roast fish and cornbread. I Upsetter, I Django
on the black wax, the Super Ape, E.T., I cleared the wave.
Again, consider the burning bush in the ears of Kalonji
and the burning sword in the mouth of the Fireman and the burning pillar
in the eyes
of the Gargamel, I put them there, to outlast earth as I navigate on one
of Saturn’s rings, I mitre solid shadow, setting fire to snow in my ark.
I credit not the genie but the coral rock: I man am stone.
I am perfect. Myself is a vanishing conch shell speeding round
a discothèque at the embassy of angels, skeletons ramble to check out
my creation dub and sex is dub, stripped to the bone, and dub is the
breaking the torso to spring, olive beaked, to be eaten up by sunlight.

Ishion Hutchinson, The Ark by “Scratch” House of Lords and Commons New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016