Don't mind the gaps
Had a lovely day yesterday which included a visit to the Hayward Gallery on London's South Bank to see David Shrigley's new exhibition Brain Activity.
This is the first time I've been to a gallery and actually seen people laughing and smiling. It is an enjoyable and provocative assortment of headless ostriches and bent ladders; scratchy funny drawings and faux-naif animation; both unsettling and enervating. Shrigley's motifs are Dali-surreal and prosaic - balloons, ants, boots, birds, ears and words occur and re-occur - and all recognisably from his hand. His human faces, even in static drawings, have a peculiarly likeable venal quality with a tweaked Pinocchio nose and a sort of rippling intelligence in the brow furrows.
It is not all 'funny' - whatever funny is. He confronts death by puncturing the pomp and fuss from it and letting it out like a balloon (probably with a fart noise)- there's a stuffed Jack Russell puppy proclaiming "I'm dead" and a headless drummer on loop; a granite and gold leaf headstone with an unusual eulogy (I found this a bit glib) and a pseudo trompe-l'oeil door titled 'Do Not Linger At the Gate' which is precisely what you have to do, to get to the next part of the gallery.
I loved the fecund tumble of Fimo creatures frm The Contents of the Gap between the Refrigerator and the Cooker and the way Shrigley mines the gaps between things - between sleeping and waking, the lost and the really lost, and the meaning behind labels. I think these disconcerting gaps are where humour comes from - that uncomfortable, tender, unnerving place where social footholds are loose.
As Shrigley says: "The doodly things can sometimes express the things that you can't describe intellectually."
I have always disliked the baby-jargon on the cartons of soup etc such as "eat me, I'm fresh" etc. and Shrigley's exhibition was, for me, as much about words as images. It is full of brilliantly placed words and phrases. (I won't elaborate or we'll be here all day - go and see it if you can).
He has said that usually 'words don't describe the pictures and the pictures don't illustrate the text ... their relationship is somehow awkward and has a friction to it.' Thus his 'hanging sign' (last seen in a Provincial railway station waiting room near you) hangs quite simply from the wall and does 'what it says on the tin' and yet does much more.
I'm wittering on, but it's hard to imagine this art working in the sixties or seventies or eighties. It is art taken from an age of shared public spaces and council coffers, of P.R and corporatese, at once knowing and disquieting and utterly satisfyingly of its time (now).
If you go, check out the decapitated squirrel - it looks like it's whipped off its motorcycle helmet and is carrying it under its arm - ace!
and here is one of my favourite Shrigley films -
what happens after you're dead