May 2011, Mark Leckey @ Serpentine Gallery

Mark Leckey, Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London, (19 May – 26 June 2011)
Copyright 2011 Mark Blower


Serpentine Gallery
Kensington Gardens
London W2 3XA
19 May through 26 June, 2011

The rough sound of the norm: a review of Mark Leckey; SEE, WE ASSEMBLE

The result of Mark Leckey's fight against the difficulty of cosseted catorgarisation during his Turner Prize success in 2008 has left the reverb of his own personal imprint alive and well - pulsating in the Serpentine Gallery. SEE, WE ASSEMBLE is classic Leckey at his most raw. The artist builds an image within the Serpentine of the modern-day psyche, an assemblage most awkward. In total Leckey has split the show into 4 working drawings, mind-mapping a complex relationship with representation. Each room desires a typically fast-paced flinching reality, relying on points of complicated reference painstakingly brought to the forefront of accountability.

My own relationship with Leckey's practice started out at The Camden Arts Centre back in the tail end of 2007 / early 2008 several months before the big Turner Prize reveal. The work in question was The March of the Big White Barbarians (2005), part of the larger show Strange Events Permit Themselves The Luxury of Occurring. It was this video-work which detailed Leckey's on-going fascination with public art, something which we see again in this current Serpentine show through the work BigBoxStatueAction (2003–11). Both The March of the Big White Barbarians and BigBoxStatueAction reveal a desire to re-articulate and appropriate the contemporary problem of public-art. BigBoxStatueAction sees the artist direct a sound-system towards a modernist sculpture, choreographing a conversation with the work in order to attempt or solicit a response. This heightened distribution of responsibility leaves the sculpture chaotically isolated and yet forgives its very articulation in the world, test-driving the potential for works of art to act out or up, and to function beyond its grave of association. In this way, Leckey's own brand of wry authority commands the function of an unsuspecting object through an unforgiving resourceful exuberance.

Mark Leckey, Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London, (19 May – 26 June 2011)
Copyright 2011 Mark Blower

A similar accountability is felt through the adjoining room in the work Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999). Considered seminal, this film-work is more commentary over montage. Depicting the UK underground dance and club scene as a dis-jointed euphoric nostalgia, it moves from isolating lucidity to abstract naivety. Leckey's ability to remain a proponent of contemporary culture comes from his resourceful identification of trends and attitudes, in a bid to force the viewer into an aspect of impartiality. It becomes a task to find a relationship to the objects and ideals Leckey identifies, exploiting the grey-space between old and new in a bid to re-articulate classic signifiers of the 20th and 21st century. This is ever-present in the waves of internet-based appreciation for the work, triumphing its glaring ability to harness the passing of time, trends and ideals without sheltering behind era fetishism and the glorification of the past. This work speaks excitedly to the purpose or fault of time and the excruciating pursuit of the timeless.

The work GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction (2010) sits adjacent to the main space, and throws a tough punch into the build and design of the show, acting out as the most difficult to articulate. If the ongoing 3 year battle between Jonathan Jones (The Guardian art critic and blog heavy-weight) and Leckey is to be believed then GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction is a point of much argument and aggression. This work belongs to a place where Leckey begins to position himself within the context and performance of the current; inhaling fridge coolant then morphing himself into a self-imposed green screen. This act tries to speak to a sense of anamorphic robotism, a shift into a reality situating machines as equals to human endeavour. It's wry and simplistic in articulation, but doesn't lack the droll ingenuity of Leckey's theoretical investigation.

To round up this show would seem abrupt at best, the work of Leckey toys with an unclear sublime, it mounts with absurd joy whilst targeting the beauty in vacancy. The dynamic at play is one which can provoke yet remain questionable. It is through this very aesthetic that Leckey reminds the viewer of the isolation of human obsession with the contemporary - resulting remorsefully in the alienation of the present.


Mark Leckey, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, 1999 (still)
Video; Courtesy of the artist, Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York,
Galerie Daniel Bucholz, Cologne, and Cabinet Gallery, London
Copyright 2011 Mark Leckey


Mark Leckey, Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London, (19 May – 26 June 2011)
Copyright 2011 Mark Blower

Sophie Risner

Sophie Risner is a freelance art writer and critic living in London. "I am less art critic and more art writer - I find the idea of critiquing art through writing difficult in a purely formalist fashion. I often lean towards the difficulty of language as a way into the inherent difficulty of art. Embracing all aspects which observe and inspire artist practice as a way to create a more fruitful and less didactic approach."

view all articles from this author