The reassembled object

Simon Starling, Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture no. 2), 2005

At first sight, Simon Starling’s Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture no. 2) appears to be a readymade. It’s an old shed. It looks a bit the worse for wear, but age will do that to a shed. Things aren’t quite a simple as they appear though and the first clue’s in the title.

Shedboatshed is a shed. Shedboatshed started out as a shed. But it hasn’t always been a shed. Starling turned an old shed, which he’d found in the banks of the Rhine, into a boat which he then used to get to Basel, carrying the unused parts of the shed in the boat. On arrival, the shed was reassembled and exhibited in the Kunstmuseum Basel and later that year in Tate Britain as part of the Turner Prize exhibition, which Starling won.

Shed. Or Shedboatshed, the before picture.

While Shedboatshed is in some ways an assemblage work – the boat after all was assembled from bits of shed before the shed was assembled from bits of boat – fundamentally this is a work that is all about the idea. The aesthetics of the piece are largely irrelevant, it’s all about the slightly ridiculous undertaking and the way we imagine the process. Looking at the rebuilt shed in the gallery, I found it impossible to see it terms of anything other than the idea – the journey – it represents.

Boat on the Rhine

That’s not to say that I glanced at the work and moved on. Quite the contrary in fact. There’s a definite fascination in looking for signs of the boatness of Shedboatshed, no matter how much I might already know about the idea, it’s intriguing to find evidence that it’s an idea that was properly realised though in some ways I’m not sure why that should be. To me, the idea is an interesting one and would be interesting regardless of whether or not that’s really how the shed made its way to Basel, but I suppose it would have been interesting in a different way as hoax.

As art objects go, Shedboatshed is definitely a pretty challenging one. It’s definitely the sort of art that attracts a certain amount of bad press, or at very least a lot of questions about whether or not it’s really art at all. Those aren’t the challenges that interest me though. The real question for me I think is where work like this sits in relation to the idea of the readymade. But some of Dumchamp’s readymades had elements of assemblage. In Bicycle Wheel (1913), Duchamp’s first readymade, a bicycle wheel and stool have been joined together. Arguably, in Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture no. 2) a shed and a boat have been joined together, just in a rather less straightforward manner.

8 thoughts on “The reassembled object

  1. Having seen quite a few readymade or readymade lookalikes (without that cool journey) I confess at first glance I almost didn’t read this post. Nice surprise to hear that poetic element. Although I’m sure the paddle and the tree in the background alerts one IRL. “looking for signs of boatness” like that.

  2. I personally hate the piece. Have you ever thought to yourself, “could i own that?” What would you do with it? Put it in your house? Or your backyard? Would you put stuff in it or just stare at it?

    Im just saying it fails at functioning as anything that belong in a gallery.But then again I am also not in favor of shitting or vomiting in a gallery and calling it art. I am not surprised to see that the Tate displayed it. They seem to like that sort of art over there. But I digress… Every art has a story, I could buy a book and get hundreds of interesting ideas using my imagination. i expect a littler more respect from my art. He could have enriched my life better by telling me to go see it in its original spot where it looks to be filled with a lot more color.

    Well thank you for the read :D

    • I think for me ‘would I want that in my home’ isn’t a very useful test for art. Of course there are countless small scale works I could happily live with forever – and plenty I love but wouldn’t want in my house – but a lot of the art that I enjoy the most and find the most thought-provoking is museum-scale work. There’s space for both, in my view.

    • Kzurc, immediately reacting to this piece by asking “could i own that?” is a good and totally valid way to begin approaching the work. As far back as the early 1900’s artists began to resist this idea of the “unique commodifiable” art object. But I would like to point out that you already own this work. It is not stuffed in your backyard or living room. Your ownership of this work is evident in the fact that you felt compelled to leave a comment here. This work belongs to us all, and that is what is so special about it! How could “he” (Simon Starling) have POSSIBLY convinced you to “go see it [the shed] in its original spot had he not made this extraordinary journey with this shed? If I said “hey Kzurc, i know of a cabin, its pretty shitty, on the rhine, you should go check it out,” would you feel very compelled to go? Your interest in seeing the shed in its “original spot” is one, just one, of the very many affects that Starling’s work had upon you. “Would you put stuff in it or just stare at it?” You have been staring at it. And you have been putting stuff in it. without ever having to own it. and this is the beauty of contemporary art, sir. /max stolkin

  3. I really like this work; it alludes to all sorts of stuff: ingenuity and creativity; transformative experience; the ‘journeys’ we make; the spaces we inhabit; the flux of time etc etc. I find it really quite romantic.
    Would I want it my house? Yes, if I could get it through the door.

  4. For me the real work here is invisible and perfect – the idea of the transformation. It’s very satisfying to imagine the steps he took to deconstruct and reconstruct.

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