Text by Rebecca Senior
Matthew Crawley’s First Year is a colourful landscape; a visually rich narrative of personal history and product choice. The work is an accumulation of items required to live for one year, and the result of several bit-picking trips to the supermarket shelves. Populating the exhibition space are objects which comprise an entire chain of everyday living: food, clothes, utensils, toiletries and 2000 litres of water, all of which construct a fascinating self-history of a life shopped, and the projection of a life lived in isolation.
The mosaic of shiny materialism begins on the shelves. Tin after tin of chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, rice pudding, hot dogs, spaghetti bolognese, pickled cucumbers and sardines line the metal units with military precision. Jars of honey, peanut butter and jam sit atop boxes of cereal and bags of rice and flour. What immediately becomes apparent is the division between First Year’s conception of a created existence and the notion of survival. To survive is to contend however First Year’s conceit is that of coping with a smaller scale existence, of a life conditioned by supermarket consumerism. Items such as garlic paste, air fresheners and deodorant are not necessarily luxurious in terms of immediate cost, but leave one questioning what conditions our concept of living and what transforms this notion of ‘cost’. Chopped tomatoes and tinned meat hold little monetary value, they are ‘cheap’, and readily available. However if the items within First Year were required to live upon, the renewal of the ‘cheap’ art object into something necessary for survival positions the viewer in an interesting space between observation and consumption. What would be sacrificed from the cartel of art first? Would it change the way you consumed objects knowing they were created under the auspices of art? The work not only projects an impression of ‘value’, it questions the viewer’s response, who is left unattended to project their own survival fantasies/nightmares.
When encountering First Year one cant help but speculate on the reality of a year lived without human company. Fear not though, David Steans’ ‘Something Season (First Year Edition)’ and Harry Meadley’s ‘One for the club’ provide both flesh and entertainment for the year. The former is a book of twelve short horror stories with pink brain-coloured pages; the latter a 2004 vintage bottle of Dom Perignon placed on top of its gift box and affixed to the studio wall. Both works alleviate and confuse the un-sentimentality of a year accompanied only by the cold materialism of consumerist products. The book is a strange concoction of uncanny morbidity and transparent humour, perpetual alterity and sensory depravation. The champagne offers a similarly interesting comment on the horror of consumption. When or would you consume it? Would you dare risk the danger of overdoing it and being left with no means of boozy indulgence for the remainder of the year? The bottle is placed out of reach….but First Year contains a ladder.
First Year – Matthew Crawley is open by appointment until 9 May 2014.
Rebecca Senior is a writer based in Leeds, and a Phd candidate in History of Art at The University of York.