The question of what exactly can be classed as art is one that is becoming increasingly dominant a topic in our post Brit-Art age. While this is often explored within specific works by artists, it is unusual to find an artist laying claim to an object’s greater meaning when the said object isn’t created by them. Turner Prize winner Mark Leckey, has created an exhibition of objects, some very obviously and famously art, others that are vaguer about their being there.
It seems that each viewer will have a very different and highly personal reaction to this exhibition. More so than that of a typical art show where the potential of the viewer having a firsthand experience of the objects on show being relatively small. Here though, there are objects that could be found in a household as well as more surreal objects and props that sit alongside the sculptures and pictures that have at least been classed as art in the past. Though the exhibition has a sense of fun about it, its questioning has a more of trying edge to it. Either the works of art question the viewer’s taking for granted of the more unusual objects or the more unusual objects make the art seem tame and limp.
Luckily this viewer found the balance to be the latter and the whole show seems to work like an imaginary dot to dot game that will differ greatly from viewer to viewer. There are however some pieces that will no doubt give the same amusing reaction at their inclusion. It seems very unlikely that any unsuspecting viewer will not be completely enamoured with the giant, inflatable Felix the Cat. Quite possibly the biggest piece of anything that The Bluecoat has put on, the sheer size of the thing is enough to shock and amuse, with its cartoonish grin wobbly nature.
There is a more serious room right next door with some interesting objects but the main area of the exhibition presents the strongest selection of objects. The room is split into three segments, all seeming to profess a theme of some sort. The first of these spaces houses all sorts of creatures born out of art including a Superlambanana, a Leckey made cardboard cut out of a Max Ernst creature, a genuine mummified cat and a large tin of cat food. This zoo of the weird works in the sense that the objects and their nature of existence question each other though visually it is a very odd and obviously surreal piece of curating.
Leckey describes his exhibition as a number of things, one of which is “magic realism”. This animal section is the closest it gets to attaining to the genre which often houses magical and surreal creatures, often more telling of the humans around them than off their own make-up. All of the animals, whether real or imaginary, show different aspects of humanity though the level of seriousness in which it does this varies greatly between pieces.
Further down the room in the third of the three sections, the technology of capturing human creativity becomes the main focus with cameras, stereos and all sorts of other bits of technology. This brings out some of the exhibition’s otherworld qualities with sounds invading the space. Along with a Leckey produced sound system, there sits a Richard Hamilton minicomputer and even a simple solar panel. Some of these were extremely interesting to look at in the sense of the natural beauty of technology though it’s surprising that the Leckey opted for the more IKEA friendly aesthetic rather than that of, say, a steam punk one when looking at technology.
This middle section, again interspersed with hints of technology, seems to be about the changing face of the human, explicitly through the use of electronics and technology. This however doesn’t highlight why this section works. It was previously stated that every viewer will have a different reaction to the objects; bringing their own histories and personal reflections on objects that will differ from person to person. My own reflections drew myself to two objects within this section. The first of these is Herman Makkink’s Rocking Machine, famous for a rather infamous scene from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). This starts to affect the section, highlighting that human morality is almost being mocked.
This is further added to by the presence of the head of a Cyberman from Doctor Who. The link between technology and humanity was made nicely in The Double Negative’s take on the exhibition. However there seems to be more to this inclusion than a mere nod to cyber- technology. Though the information board states the head as being from around 1985, the actual design of this cyber-helmet is from a 1968 story called The Wheel in Space. The story itself is insignificant but the date is as this is the first of the Cyberman heads that showcase the “human tear” design on the eye. Look closely and the viewer will see what appears to be a small tear shape on each of the eye sockets. This design lasted until the 1980s and was then resurrected again in noughties but it is the reason that links in to Rocking Machine. The tear is mocking human morality and emotions by almost satiring the creature’s lack of emotional empathy and sadness.
This will not come through for every viewer but it also highlights the highly personal nature of this exhibition. The strongest sections and objects will vary so much as they rely solely on the viewer’s own past to recognise and to fill in the gaps. Whether a tin of cat food should be in an art gallery is really beside the point. A final summation then seems apt to come from the world of Doctor Who (I’m sure Leckey would approve). In the 1979, Douglas Adams penned story, City of Death, a famous cameo from John Cleese occurs. They are in an art gallery, the same art gallery where the Tardis is parked. He and Eleanor Bron briefly discuss the merits of the Tardis as a work of art stating “and since it has no call to be here, the art lies in the fact that it is here…” The Doctor then runs in and flies off in it, highlighting the absurdity of the Tardis being a work of art in a story about the robbery of the Mona Lisa. It appears then, that we may have gone full circle.
The Universal Adressability of Dumb Things is on at The Bluecoat until the 14th of April. Entry is free.
Words and photos by Adam Scovell.