British artist David Shrigley is for the first time in a major retrospective exhibition in the UK to be seen at Hayward Gallery. ‘Brain Activity’ covers works from the mid-1990s to the present day and shows what Shrigley is all about: he likes to play—with our ideas, associations, and reactions.
Shrigley’s distinctive mark is his handwriting—all capitals—in black ink on whatever medium he is working with. Most well-known are his quirky drawings of which the show features 117 new works done in 2012. Each one creates a tragicomic narrative, shows a misfortunate situation of everyday life in its blank and intimate humanness, or just puzzles.
Another drawing depicts Magritte’s pipe and the caption ‘THIS IS NOTHING’. Nice pun, Shrigley. The questioning of representation is a recurrent thread in his work. As is the uncanniness in the encounter with seemingly familiar objects and the sudden feeling that something is wrong here.
Or is it common that ostrich have no head when they have stuck it in sand too often?
Other art historical references remind of conceptual ideas, when a red sign on a green meadow says ‘IMAGINE THE GREEN IS RED’.
In this light and humorous way of addressing most fundamental thoughts of art history and life, Shrigley also approaches death. There is a granite tombstone listing in gold leaf letters a common shopping list.
Shrigley says he likes lists and putting them out of context to see how this changes their meaning. In this case, it unveils the banality of day-to-day life in the face of death.
Or a cute Jack Russell terrier, displayed as taxidermy, affirming his own death in an unsolvable conundrum of speaking the unspeakable.
When I think about Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst, the shocking depiction of mortality has been a popular issue in last century's British art. For me, David Shrigley's black humor is a welcome contrast to their drama.
Shrigley makes me question what I see and thereby points to the functioning of the power of signs and written language—in making me follow the information “Exhibition continues” to discover that there is a tiny bronze figure standing outside the gallery space visible only through the glass door to the terrace. And that is what I like.
by Julia Loeschl
Through 13th May 2012