Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

To enter the exhibition you have to manually open a heavy iron gate with the words 'DO NOT LINGER AT THE GATES' suspended in a black, gothic spider's web. As it swings open you can almost hear the trembling voice of God (or Vincent Price) booming down unconvincingly from above, and this hammed-up, camp ‘Big Other’ is just one of the ‘voices' that echo throughout the show.

Death, transcendence and superstition are reoccurring themes: there is a taxidermied rat lying prostrate on the carpet; a crudely rendered bronze figure rising up from its coffin; a horseshoe made from a meteorite and a brand new gravestone with a gold leaf inlaid shopping-list carved into its polished granite surface. The real subject of the show – what is being shown – is vulnerability or, more specifically, the cultural locations of its denial, including, suggests Shrigley, contemporary art itself.

The practice of taxidermy is an attempt to put life, or the appearance of it, back into what has died. This is no resurrection though, it is a representation where carcasses are forced into (un)'natural' postures and inserted into an idealised narrative of the wild. I recall an earlier Shrigley work where a taxidermied squirrel holds up a placard that reads 'I AM DEAD' and the stuffed rat in this exhibition has been resurrected to look, well, dead.

The aesthetics of the tombstone – material, scale and weight – signify permanence, or the desire to extend the self beyond death. Carved with the solemn, religious rhetoric of Christianity, this utterance is projected into an eternal space where God or Lucifer, both of whom know us intimately, waits with open arms. The shopping list is a very different kind of text. Scribbled rather than chiseled onto a scrap of paper or torn envelope and discarded after use, this prosaic, unpunctuated ‘poetry’: “bread / cornflakes / aspirin” etc, is inscribed into a place of abject anonymity and Shrigley’s deadpan marriage of the two is a shocking reminder of our vulnerability and aloneness.

Other pieces in the show similarly juxtapose redemptive discourses with those of abandonment and indifference, and the work is at its most interesting when Shrigley reinscribes the contemporary art discourse into that place of false hope. In Sleep for example, a flat, weakly drawn cartoon of a man asleep is synced with the soundtrack of someone sleeping, possibly Shrigley himself. Unlike that other David (Beckham) who, in Sam Taylor-Woods self-important video David 2004, is lost in an unconscious world of youthful, blissful serenity, Shrigley’s sleeper fidgets, twitches, grimaces and paws at the cloth of his bedspread. Sleep, suggests Shrigley, and the world of dreams, of the unconscious – perhaps the only place where we do 'transcend' ourselves (although we cannot ever witness it) – is not so peaceful after all.

In Lightswitch, a cartoon hand with outstretched finger repeatedly switches a household lightswitch on and off, only when the lights go out the whole image disappears. In 2001 Martin Creed had a similar piece of work in the Turner Prize exhibition, called Work No.227: The lights going on and off in which it is plain to see, when the lights go out, Creed’s smug face. Shrigley's disfunctional aesthetic foregrounds Creed’s certainty, and the dubious positivism in certain areas of contemporary art by allowing us to witness his desperation, as the person on the other end of that craply drawn finger makes ever more futile attempts to see into the void.

And this is the key to the show, and perhaps to all of Shrigley’s work, because what Shrigley is attempting to show us is that which can never be seen: ourselves whilst sleeping, ourselves after death and, in the process, because of his deliberately ‘inadequate’ technique, he allows us to acknowledge our vulnerability in the face of this unyielding eternity. We are told at the very beginning, ‘DO NOT LINGER AT THE GATE’ but, ironically, Shrigley is suggesting that the whole of life is in fact nothing more than ‘lingering at the gate’ and everything else is made up, art included, in an attempt to keep us from the knowledge that there is nothing behind it, not even Vincent Price.