Michael Landy in conversation with Richard Calvocoressi

Leeds Art Gallery 30/11/12

At the end of a day long conference at the Henry Moore Institute, Richard Calvocoressi, Director of the Henry Moore Foundation, introduced artist Michael Landy with a few notes about his personal obsession with the work under discussion: Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York (1960) – a machine built from junk from new York landfill designed to perform it’s own destruction in the gardens of MOMA http://vimeo.com/8537769

In an overview of Landy’s biography, Calvocoressi brought up that Bill Woodrow had been Landy’s tutor at college in the 80s and asked how much affect Woodrow’s dismantling of things had inspired Landy. Landy did acknowledge this obvious-from-the-outside connection but did not discuss the relationship in any further depth.

He talked about his earlier works and his interest in exchange and “material realism”. Closing Down Sale (1992) he described as being comprised of “all the junk I collected”. Scrap Heap Services got a brief mention due to being staged at the Electric Press Building in Leeds in 1995. Calvocoressi compared Landy to Arman citing his work Le Plein (Full Up) 1960 where he filled Galerie Iris Clert in Paris with garbage, creating as a response to the exhibition called Le Vide at the same gallery two years earlier by his friend Yves Klein.

Of course, Break Down (2001) featured heavily in the talk. The Art Angel commission involved Landy systematically cataloguing and destroying all his 7000+ worldly possessions over a 2 week period in an empty shop unit on Oxford Street – London’s busiest consumer street. One object took 10 minutes to go round the length of the conveyor belt Landy noted. He showed us a couple of slides of the catalogue – which looked very similar but in almost polar opposite to my HOARD catalogue (the rubbish of my practice produced and collected during 2012). Landy also had an item – A157 – Jean Tinguely’s Untitled Meta-matic drawing (1982) on one slide which was part of the work and therefore destroyed. Landy talked about Break Down as dealing with emotions and value and at the time rationalised it to do with consumerism. He said the 2 weeks of Break Down were the happiest 2 weeks of his life – in complete elation – and also it was like witnessing his own death. The remians produced weighed in at 5.75 tonne and were buried in landfill in Essex. He didn’t make work for a year after that and then he started drawing weeds (Mother’s Purse) as they grew in waste land.

Landy talked about having to become a spokesperson [on consumerism] and that as artists we often have mutliple roles within the title of ‘artist’. He recalled that fellow students called him Blandy at college as he always did the same thing.