Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down: Deller & Shrigley
During the Easter holidays I went on an art exhibition binge. Maybe it was the cultural deprivation of ‘the bubble’, but I managed to see a whole range of works, two exhibitions being particularly memorable and striking.
At the Hayward Gallery in Southbank, London I stumbled upon an exhibition of works by Jeremy Deller (‘Joy in People’) and David Shrigley (‘Brain Activity’), wildly different yet also complementary. In order to get to Shrigley, I had to first experience Deller’s retrospective of work. One room contained the remnants of a car that had been suicide bombed in Baghdad, killing 38 people, along with people who were experts on the war in Iraq, allowing you to ask any question you fancied. My favourite part was the loo, which had been created in conjunction with a reconstruction of Deller’s teenage bedroom, where he staged his first exhibition whilst his parents were away. On the walls of the loo were pieces of graffiti collected from the men’s facilities of the British Library, not your standard tedious scribblings but phrases such as ‘I Can’t Think Of Anything Amazingly Illuminating To Write’ and ‘Bestiality Impresses Rubber Ducks, British Indecision Reaps Distress, Being Is Ridiculously Drab…’ In the centre of the space there was a recreation of a café in Bury Market, Lancashire, where you could sit and enjoy free cups of tea whilst soaking in a mind map of how Acid House was related to Brass Bands, creating Acid Brass.
David Shrigley’s work, when juxtaposed next to Deller's, seemed minimalist in comparison, yet the wit and humour set it apart. A popular artist and cartoonist, Shrigley demonstrates his talent through a range of sculptures (including a headless ostrich and a stuffed Jack Russell holding a placard proclaiming ‘I’m Dead’), animations and paintings. The fact that I found myself laughing out loud inside an art gallery astounded me. I continued to regard a gravestone inscribed with someone’s shopping list ('bread, milk, cornflakes, baked beans, tomatoes, aspirin, biscuits'), looked at a sculpture that said ‘Look At This’ and chuckled at a sign for a lost ‘Grey and white pidgeon (sic) with black bits. Normal size. A bit mangy looking. Does not have a name.’
Firstly, I think it is important to point out that when it comes to art, I am a cheapskate. Actually, when it comes to most things, my ears prick up and I virtually start to salivate at the mention of 'free stuff'. So forking out ten quid immediately meant a black mark against Deller & Shrigs in my ominous little notebook. (I am aware that for London this is actually fairly reasonable. I am not a Londoner. I am a cheapskate).
Deller’s collection to me appeared to be entirely spontaneous, and I don’t mean that in a positive, creative way, rather when you go watch an action movie and spontaneously decide to become a parkour master for the next few hours. His reconstruction of a teenage bedroom seemed more like an adult’s idea of what teenagers’ bedrooms look like – complete with angsty posters and self-absorbed, emo style diary entries (‘Nobody understands me/I feel invisible). Seriously? To me, the installation felt impersonal, very thrown together and temporary, the posters clearly printed off the Internet and then artfully creased.
I didn’t notice the café set up actually sold tea; if I had I probably would have stayed there. Instead I went and watched a movie of bats flying at you in 3D and then a clip of a TV show where men dressed like homoerotic superheroes wrestled and broke each others’ fingers. Curioser and curioser.
Shrigley’s exhibition seemed to focus heavily on ironic taxidermy. From the post-modern Jack Russell to a headless ostrich, I’m sure PETA were delighted – though I wasn’t really sure what the point was. I certainly wasn’t ‘absorbing the realisation of something missing’, as the description card suggested I do; it may be my sheltered background, but I think most people are aware that wildfowl traditionally runs around with beak attached.
Perhaps my issue is that I like my art to have a tangible point. I am aware this is old-fashioned. If there was an overall linking theme or idea to Deller and Shrigley’s respective collections, it went utterly over my head.