In the dark, an edgeless figure is dancing. Its body is a portal through which coloured orbs glow, like the lights of distant planets or fish in the deepest ocean. From the primordial soup, Sox and Yow emerge.
Sox and Yow are the speculative alter egos of Perth artists Bianca Sharkey and James Doohan, collectively known as Astro Morphs. The two characters and their narrative are central to the collaboration. Astro Morphs’ aesthetic is tactile, hands-on: down-to-earth as well as interplanetary. Their films feature animated backgrounds drawn in Texta or collaged with coloured paper. There are lavish costumes— all beading and sequins and papier-mâché—which are often exhibited alongside the films like museum relics. The vibe is both cosmological and biological, influenced by insects, tree bark, fungi, and microscopic slides. Even the video’s fluorescent colours, Sharkey points out, are found in the lab.
At the end of Astro Morphs’ 2018 film Ascension, Sox and Yow die, but are then reborn: “repurposed,” says Sharkey, “by the microorganisms in a rockpool.” The pair are transformed into new beings called ‘neonates’.
As humans, Sharkey explains, “we experience cultural evolution—so that’s something like mobile phones, or something external to us—but we don’t live long enough to witness our biological evolution.” Viruses and bacteria operate differently— we can see them evolve because we exist on different timeframes.
Ctrl + H merges these planes between organisms. The video work picks up the narrative where Ascension left off, with the characters trying to understand their new forms and find an ecological niche. Evolutionary building blocks like ear canals and ribcages are reimagined as musical instruments; a poncho features a scaled-up image of the eye’s rods and cones. Ultimately, Astro Morphs stitch together a microbial, cosmic world that’s joyously glam, pulsing with new energy.
Ctrl + H
27 March—9 May
This article was originally published in the March/April 2021 print edition of Art Guide Australia.