27 October 2012

Words and pictures

David Shrigley is a ruler aficionado. He is also a collector of found ephemera, including maps people draw for their friends to show them how to get to a particular pub or some such destination of choice. I am a dictionary aficionado and collector of discarded lists, so I instantly feel a certain affinity for this tall man standing somewhat self-consciously on the stage at the front of Cornerhouse’s Cinema 1 on Saturday 13 October, to give a talk relating to his current show, How Are You Feeling?.  

He likes the “gestural” - without words - though I come away from this show and tell lecture, called, um, Show & Tell, thinking how important words actually are to him; as integral to his work as the pictures or installations. There are neon banners, lost pigeon posters, spoken word albums, tattooed phrases, stuffed animals holding signs, the trademark cartoon combinations of stick drawings and scrawly captions.

He’s not interested in representational drawing, he says, and he says he can’t draw very well anyway. He’s interested in “economically delivered narratives”, communicating things as efficiently as possible, so with the cartoons and short films such as New Friends, he creates a simple image and a snappy slogan that go together - or a slogan and an image; the order is not always the same - usually with “some odd slippage”. The slippage was unintentional in a series of plates that ran in The Independent some years ago, when the art director unilaterally decided to cut off parts of the image in some cases, and the words in others, essentially publishing an end result that was incomprehensible and pointless. Not surprisingly, Shrigley took his talents elsewhere.

Sometimes, of course, the experimentation is totally conscious in terms of not knowing what the outcome might be: a giant unending sausage of clay at a German gallery, for example, that cracked apart as the medium dried; or filling things (tents, waders...) with expanding foam. “It doesn’t always work,” says Shrigley, “but it’s kind of fun.”

The most fun I’ve had in ages* is watching Shrigley’s slideshow from a break in France with his wife. This is David Shrigley, so obviously we’re not talking sunsets and chateaux; his holiday snaps are of the gite owner’s obsessive labelling, from her surname on the dustbin (within the bounds of reason) to “do not move” on a completely portable object. How do you know if it’s not already been located elsewhere to its original position? Light switches are labelled light switches, and, inspired, Shrigley sculpts a big egg, paints it white and daubs on EGG. Does writing “egg” on a big egg make it more of an egg, he queries. Well, in the context of an art show, perhaps it does. In the context of a kitchen cupboard, maybe not.

I come away from the show with a lot of newfound knowledge about David Shrigley and conceptual art, and I’ve had a good laugh. I’ve heard how a mural he painted at a skatepark in Malmo, Sweden, was too distracting and had to be removed after the skaters kept falling off their boards. I’ve learnt more about the giant ceramic boots I saw at the Haywood exhibition; they’re a response to an old suit of armour on display at a museum in Scotland. I’m interested in Shrigley’s creative process (he has a stack of recycling) and thoughts on success: “If you make stuff that’s not rubbish, that’s a good criteria.” And I leave with his final idea buzzing around my brain: show, don’t tell.

(*This might not technically be true.)

David Shrigley's How Are You Feeling runs at Cornerhouse until Sunday 6 January 2013. Galleries are open Tuesday-Saturday 12-8pm, Sunday 12-6pm (closed Monday).

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