I’m standing in a white room with a digital projector that blasts a square of white light on a white wall. In the centre is a shaky drawing of a light switch. A cartoon finger comes up from the lower left hand corner and flips the switch. The projection goes black, then light, then black, then light, while an accompanying soundtrack reverberates off the walls, “Click. Clack. Click. Clack.”
Someone mutters, “He’s taking a swipe at that guy who won the Turner.” “What guy?” asks his friend. “You know, The Lights Going On and Off Guy.” The Turner Prize, named for J. M. W. Turner is presented annually to a British artist under 50. Organized by the Tate, the winner gets £40,000. In 2001, Martin Creed won for his installation, Work No. 227: the lights going on and off, in which lights in an empty room go on and off at 5 second intervals.
Today at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the work of Scottish artist David Shrigley is showing. In addition to Light Switch, 2007, the show includes a robot vacuum with felt tipped pens attached to it, which drives around making drawings on the floor, an inflatable, badly-drawn swan, and a wall painting of a black dot. There’s also a room that invites museum-goers to take part in a life drawing session, though the model isn’t live. Instead, a disproportionate sculpture of an anatomically awkward man is the focus. At timed intervals it blinks and releases liquid into a bucket at its feet. Visitors apply themselves earnestly to their masterpieces, with a museum docent on hand to replenish supplies of paper and pastels.
Out in the foyer, the artist has built a free-standing gift shop and stocked it with tea towels, buttons, books and postcards. “He’s saying what everyone’s feeling,” someone whispers near the cash register. I fondle a button that reads, “I speak for everyone.”
PS: “At a time when political correctness is valued over honesty I would also like to say “Right on!” (Madonna, on live television, while handing Martin Creed the Turner Prize)
“In the end, everything is a gag.” (Charlie Chaplin)
“Wit is educated insolence.” (Aristotle)
Esoterica: Also on view at The National Gallery of Victoria is the first retrospective of the work of French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier. “Fashion is not art. Never,” says Gaultier. Nevertheless, red spotlights and velvet-lined rooms showcase the designer’s underwear-as-outerwear, man-skirts, garbage bag dress, kilts made from flea market finds, mermaid gowns and pink satin cone-shaped bras. “Fashion is about what you look like,” says Gaultier, “which translates to what you would like to be like.” Says David Shrigley, “I don’t think I’ve ever made any conscious decision to be a comic artist, but to me there’s something quite anarchic about comedy.” As for the Turner Prize — Shrigley was a finalist in 2013. His iphone App Light Switch can be downloaded for free, so that you, too, can turn the lights on and off.
Featured Workshop: Joyce Hicks
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