Matt Henry, The King

America, once again becomes the subject for many respected creatives. In a time where the present is being discovered again, the past takes precedence in Matt Henry's focus. More specifically, The King, Elvis Presley, his resurrection from past to present creates a strange balance between then and now. Working with staged processes, Matt looks to revisit rather than revive the time when Elvis would be nothing more than a hound dog, instead his attention turns to the memory of the decade.

We all know the facts of the time, the events that took place and how it all ended, but its reinvention creates new questions. Heading back to Americana's perhaps golden years before it turned into a tourist trap I am reminded of William Eggleston's Graceland, and Paul Simon's travels from Africa to the capital. With convincing stages, props and state of capture the series of five creates a modest search into the era. At first glance they could seem as if they are a found archive, but signs of the present creep in at second viewing. This element then takes on another set of questions.

The desire to look back and understand rather than take on the present creates an interesting question for American culture. Like many aspects of life, the past seems to have a hold on us where the present just exists and the future appears to be a hover car metropolis where we live in the tops of buildings and wear funny space clothes, (See The Fifth Element for reference).

The re-piecing of Americas golden era of mistakes, new waves of experience for people of that time is put together by the artist - meticulously considering each element as a piece to complete the full picture. With two eyes focused on Elvis Presley, his eyes look back at us blankly - he does not see us. Thus leaving us with the haunting suggestion the past is well and truly in our memories and to most these memories are prompted with Youtube videos of live concerts and cinema of the time to form our research.

It would be morbid to say these times are what we want, because we never experienced them, but perhaps that is why we look back with hungry eyes. These icons do not seem real. They are part of a story partly made of fiction that is based on reality. Characters today fail to withstand the pressure Elvis does now because Elvis has well and truly left the building and is now hanging out outside kicking stones waiting in the wings.

He remains 'The King' in the eyes of history and despite all of Matt's experience in the world his encounter with him is through films and ideas of the legend behind the character. For what works as an editorial piece and a pursuit of fiction the work caters for both markets. The staged elements leave us exhausted, causing a trick to the mind as we first see the work. It is only perfect prop placement that suggests these are not what they first seem to be, each moment a little too perfect, creating a cross-section of reality. For these, of course, are revisits.


"My personal practice focuses on America during the 1960s and 1970s. The works take the form of staged scenes constructed as set-builds in the UK using props sourced from here and the United States. I was drawn to this period in American history during my undergraduate studies in BA (Hons) Politics and again in my MA Photography. Its devout modernism is a particular interest, with utopian political and cultural ideals heralding some of the great liberal successes of our time (the civil rights, feminist, anti-war and free speech movements). My current long-term project focuses on the American counterculture and social protest in the years 1964-74. Previous works reveal a similar obsession with American cultural exports and how their symbols became the language of near-global imagination. In this sense, my work also plays with memory fragments of American photography, cinema and literature to explore underlying ideological concerns. Yet the distillation of these aspects into staged scenes is not only a method to explore a cultural subtext, but also to celebrate a world particular to me. This world takes the form of an imaginary small town, semi-rural space where the central dramas of nature, love, sex, family, and death contrast with the urbanised dislocation and technologically-inspired isolation of today's postmodern world." - Matt Henry