Text by Kirstie Gregory
The second quarterly exhibition of the Leeds Weirdo Club brings together three works which are superficially odd bedfellows: work that isn’t there at all, a work one could easily miss, and a sculpture one all but bumps into. All three works are slightly removed from their ‘correct’ temporal or spatial time; and they are genuinely thought-provoking – suggesting ongoing discussion of subjects such as entrance, departure, fitting in and moving beyond.
David Steans’ House of Splattered Pomegranates (2013) is a more-or-less life-size drawing of a door. Taking the form of a book-plate design, the drawing is a scaled up version of other ‘ex libris’ book-plates Steans has made (completing the work is a short horror story of the same name and five cast iron door-knockers – none of which appear in this exhibition). The drawing of the door is the only way in (sorry for the pun) to this larger body of work. Steans is currently writing a book of short horror stories which inspire or are inspired by accompanying sculptures. House of Splattered Pomegranates is a fiction of a house that slowly starts to glue itself, and the family who inhabit it, together. Steans explains this drawing as essentially “the fictional family’s ‘ex libris’ design”. The story alludes to the intrinsic power of materials, specifically the potential strength of inanimate materials – an appropriate narrative undercurrent for the written work of an artist as likely to work in three dimensions as two. The drawing is in some ways an odd choice for inclusion. One imagines a more representative impression of the larger horror story project might lie in works with more depth; the extra visual dimension that words on the page conjure up in the reader’s mind, or the spooky, talismanic quality of sculptures representing horrible stories – I am thinking of the artist’s Mr Cider (2012) and The Bin-bag (2011). But the drawing is intriguing, not quite comfortable in the clean lines of the contemporary exhibition space; and its subtle suggestiveness is its strength.
The choice to include only a representation of an entrance is in accordance with the works of Matthew Crawley and Harry Meadley – a huge tardis-shaped construction (indicating the idea of a portal) and a discarded flannel shirt – hung on a hook at the entrance/exit to the gallery. Crawley’s Temple (2013) looks deceptively smooth, slick and factory-made but is in fact made from scratch by the artist from MDF, wood, wood glue, screws, red devil Onetime filler (!), emulsion paint, gold spirit paint and white vinyl. At 325 cms tall it is too tall, and again ultimately discordant in the venue. The sculpture is a full-scale representation of a Leeds ‘poster drum’ – apparently there are more than a hundred dotted around the city although it took me a while to recall the exact location of a single one, and I found it impossible to know what to call them – they are most usually covered with fly posters, marketing, publicity. Crawley has found an object so ingrained in the urban landscape it is invisible to the unobservant, and painstakingly recreated it in an unaccommodating interior. Almost. The huge tardis will not fit, and has apparently broken through the gallery/studio ceiling. Not only is it inappropriately located, it has been divested of its promotional purpose – it is clean, smooth, and virginal. We are confronted with an unembossed ‘temple’, a monument to inappropriateness. Just as Steans’ drawing does, it makes us uncomfortable – it embodies unfamiliarity – its useless presence intimidates and wrong-foots. I am reminded of reading an interview with Phyllida Barlow (whose experiments with the pressure that scale can exert on a viewer this work also references) in which she said “Conceptual art has been devoured by advertising” – perhaps this work goes some way to redressing the balance.
Headless Body found in Topless Bar (2013) is a work that again, through its placement, is easy-to-miss. Hung on a peg beside the club’s door, it evokes themes of arrival and departure. It is visually reminiscent of a work by British artist Martin Naylor – Discarded Sweater (1972-3). Yet Naylor’s work has a far more laboured appearance, it is a highly-strung, tense work with poles and pins and wire and glass variously placed in relation to the titular sweater – and Naylor’s sweater is pinned to the wall, a stiff, crucified sculpture. Meadley’s work is a lighter gesture, easily missed, loose and soft. Naylor’s by contrast is protracted, literally and metaphorically ‘highly strung’, creating an uneasy atmosphere. Meadley’s shirt is as much ready-made as installation and, as is true of much ready-made work, the inherent humour in its rebuke to more traditional, painstakingly-made sculpture is naturally present. Perhaps any labour of the artist is in his chosen words. The title of the work is identical to and taken from (I presume) an infamous New York Post headline. Meadley has appropriated this and created a work possessing visual humour reflecting the intention to entertain of the original feature writer. It is a cracker of a phrase – with a very gruesome story behind it – which takes us back to the impetus and importance of the horror story also for Steans. The exhibition is a show in which small and light touches hide conceptual and narrative depth – making these three generous, suggestive works appropriate to the show’s evocative title.
The Second Quarterly Leeds Weirdo Club Exhibition from June 6th to June 20th 2013.
Kirstie Gregory is Research Programme Assistant at the Henry Moore Institute and a Post-Graduate student at the University of Huddersfield.
. Phyllida Barlow, in Objects for… and other things, Phyllida Barlow (Black Dog Publishing: London), 2004, p. 93.