By the side of a tourist route in Norway a large rock sits improbably on top of another rock. Were one to drive past and fleetingly glimpse this rock pairing, it would be possible to catch sight of them and wonder idly whether this was a balancing act made by man or nature. Are the rocks there to mark the way? Are the the site of some ancient ritual? Are they like that following a landslide? If one weren’t looking out for them, contemporary art probably wouldn’t be one’s first thought. In fact though, this curious arrangement – the momunmental equivalent of countless pictures on Flickr – is Rock on Top of Another Rock by the Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. Londoners might know a newer incarnation of the work which currently occupies a site in Kensington Gardens just outside the Serpentine Galley (of which, more later I rather suspect).
What interests me here isn’t the work – though that does fascinate me and it’s a work I’d really love to see – it’s the process of proposing such a sculpture. Just as Michael Landy drew out his idea for Break Down – the subject of a previous post – so, according to Peter Fischli, who spoke about the work and the process of its commissioning at the V&A earlier in the year, Fischli/Weiss used an image as a core element of their proposal. Unlike Landy though, they didn’t make a drawing. Instead, they found an image on the internet. The nature of the image may come as a bit of a surprise…
Michael Landy, P.D.F. Product, Disposal Facility, 1998
As an idea, setting up a disposal facility to destroy all one’s possessions is pretty unusual and it’s certainly not one that conjures up an immediate image in the mind. There would be many ways to go: a big crushing machine perhaps, or maybe some sort of funnel and an industrial scale waste disposal unit like the ones you sometimes see in kitchen sinks but huge, or, well all sorts of other possibilities really. Which is what makes Michael Landy’s P.D.F. (do you see what he did there?) so fascinating.
I’ve written about Michael Landy’s Break Down here before, but at the time I focused firmly on the event and the photographic documentation. Breakdown, an Artangel commission that saw Landy destroy all his possessions with the help of a team of overall-clad operatives and a production line style ‘disposal facilty’ set up in the former C&A store on Oxford Street, came back to mind for a few reasons. Mainly, I’ve been trying to reduce the clutter levels in my house and while there’s a long way to go I’ve become pretty familiar with the local charity shops and reacquainted myself with stuff that’s long been lurking in what can only reasonably be described as the junk room. While I’m probably worse than most people at getting round to dumping the clutter, I think many of us do attach memories to things in a way that can make it hard to acknowledge our lack of practical need for objects that may hold sentimental value, however slight.
There’s a lot to enjoy in the summer exhibition at Tate St Ives, some of which I’ll quite likely write about later, but the work that really made me smile was one of Linder’s collages. I was already enjoying looking at this work and at the way the series of small collages shared a space with sculptures by Barbara Hepworth, but my enjoyment of Joining Valley wasn’t really about the work at all. It was one of those moments when something you haven’t thought about in years is suddenly brought back to mind by a chance encounter with an image on a gallery wall.
It’s just possible that art informs my understanding of the world a bit too much.
On holiday last month while driving through the Cornish countryside, conversation turned to the nature of farming in Cornwall. I knew there was arable farming from buying Cornish vegetables in the supermarket. Fair enough. But I realised that it wasn’t the cream teas or the plentiful local ice-cream that brought dairy farming to mind. No. It was art. Tacita Dean’s 1999 film Banewl to be precise.
Banewl is hardly action packed. Made during the total eclipse of the sun visible – albeit mostly masked by clouds – in the West Country, the hour-long work shows the edited highlights of a couple of hours in the lives of a herd of dairy cows on the day the sky went dark.
However one feels about Margaret Thatcher – and regular readers may by now suspect I’m not a fan – the ceremonial funeral seems like a contentious decision at the very least. Add to that the fact that it’s been discussed in the media as following the model of the funerals of Daina, Princess of Wales and the Queen Mother and it becomes easy to see Thatcher as receiving the royal status she seemed to award her self when she announced “we have become a grandmother.” Which, to my mind at least, makes this a good day to write about Maggie Regina, Peter Kennard’s 1983 depiction of Margaret Thatcher as Queen Victoria.
Times change, that’s a given. There are several 1980s’ photo-books that make that very clear. Most, like Paul Graham’s Beyond Caring, offer a reminder of the nature of the public spaces we inhabited; pictures of home life tell a different, albeit related, story. Nick Waplington’s Living Room, published in 1991, depicts family life on the Nottingham council estate that was also home to his grandparents. Waplington documented the daily lives of two families over a period of several years; the pictures in Living Room are from the late 1980s, roughly a decade in to Margaret Thatcher’s time in office. This is family life in a country where industry has collapsed and society declared non-existent by the Prime Minister.