- South London Gallery
I’ve always been an admirer of Landy’s work, ever since he destroyed all his possessions in full view of the public in a laborious factory-style procedure in 2001 entitled Breakdown. His willingness to share his most intimate possessions, and to sacrifice them through a ritualistic act of destruction in the name of art was a very tall order. I wouldn’t want to have to rebuild my life again after that. But Landy had to.
This personal sacrifice is what sets the stage for his new drama, Art Bin. This time the role has been reversed. Bar the artist’s name, Landy has handed over the content of the performance to the public and the dumping of artwork in the ‘Bin’ to the technicians. The only identifiable association left of the artist is the concept.
What intrigued me initially about this exhibition, and was even more apparent on visiting the South London Gallery, was the performative nature of Art Bin. The piece actually began when the application process started back in December 2009, when Landy advertised for the public to submit artworks to be destroyed as part of his act. This process will still continue throughout the exhibition right up to the final day, as Landy selects from the submissions in the hope of filling his ‘monument to creative failure.’ The catch (there’s always a catch) is that works accepted are dependant upon medium, scale and ultimately taste. Though I guess if anything was accepted there would be all sorts of trash being entered. Imagine that. Although Landy does put the work through a selection process for exactly this reason. As stated in a recent interview with Metro: I’m eager for this not to be seen as some kind of project that seems to be saying contemporary art is rubbish.’
On entering the room on the opening night, I was immediately struck by the huge metallic framed Perspex skip, which completely dominated the space with overpowering force with nothing but a 6ft wide walkway all the way round for manoeuvrability. It definitely had impact anyway. At the far end of the room there was a man on top of a stairway structure, built specifically for access to the Art Bin, throwing in a painting. On seeing this I was struck initially by two things: the size of the room, and the specific works being disposed of. The height of the room seemed of utmost importance to the work actually being destroyed, as more height equalled more force, rather than it landing softly and relatively intact. At regular intervals there were loud cheers as framed drawings and clay sculptures crashed into the bin, smashing into a thousand pieces and further damaging other work along with it. I do think this had something to do with the second part as well though – works by Julian Opie, Damien Hirst and Ian Davenport, to name but a few, were already in there. I was quite surprised by this initially, as it gave a kind of elitist aura to the performance, which seemed an irony given that I was lead to expect works from the general public, that I would not recognise, being thrown in. This division was heightened as the evening wore on, as people piled into the relatively tiny walk space we had to move around in. At times people were squashed against the glass as they tried to move past one another – my friend and I felt like cattle, whilst the fat cat sat in the middle of the room watching us.
Before the room had filled, I had the chance to view those who had successfully passed the application process lining up with their work ready to be handed over to Landy’s technicians. It gave me a pleasant ‘aaahhh’ feeling as I saw remnants from his factory line in Breakdown. It was a shame artists weren’t allowed to throw their own work in, though for safety reasons, its understandable. Nevertheless, imagine the euphoria from it – climbing up the staircase in full view of a packed room, the atmosphere heightening as conversations draw to a close, heads turn to see the work being thrust downwards into the bin – crash!! Along with the artists, we just had to settle for the cheer at the end instead.
The work for the bin that night had already been selected, so fresh work was being kept in the storeroom, apparently for another day. For obvious publicity reasons, work with the greatest value went in first. It was convenient that the TV cameras were there, along with the art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon. It makes me wonder how much of this was a publicity stunt. Considering the public fuels this work, it seemed an irony that we were made to feel small, watching work of Internationally renowned artists being thrown in, and we had no other contribution than to be an onlooker of a monumental performance piece, which will no doubt be talked about for years to come. I guess we’ll just have to wait a few more weeks until Landy’s worked his way down the food chain before we see my work in there…
Art Bin appears to echo Anthony Gormley’s recent Fourth Plinth concept of One and Other in 2009. Gormley stripped the artist from the scene, allowing the public to take centre stage, giving each applicant 30 minutes on the plinth to do whatever they wished in full view of all in Trafalgar Square. Initially I thought the idea was a joke. He’s just cashing in, he hasn’t even had to do anything, it’s just an idea which has run away with itself, and he has the tagline. Though one thing it has done, in one of the most effective ways by any artist in the last decade, is draw in every tom, dick and harry to the notion that art is for everyone and anyone can take part. I doubt there isn’t a single person in Britain that hasn’t heard of Gormley now. Genius!
Recently there has been an aura building around these YBA artists, staging dramatic public events. First Gormley, now Landy. I wonder if Tracy Emin will pull something out of the hat soon? She hasn’t been up to much recently.
Not to dampen the drama of Landy’s new epic, I would like to end on a positive note. As critical as I want to be, I cannot draw myself away from the physical and metaphorical impact that Art Bin is a magnificent intervention. As a statement it seeks to forever question our value of contemporary art – its purpose, meaning, reason, definition, both in society and as individuals. I only saw the piece on the opening night, but I cannot wait to pop back there a week before it closes to see how full the bin has got and see all those details of destruction. That’s when the curtains will go up for me.