Bruce Lacey brings robots and ritual to retrospective at Camden Arts Centre

By Mark Sheerin | 24 July 2012
A photo of various frontispieces for books and publications including one in German
© Angus Mill
Exhibition: Bruce Lacey – The Bruce Lacey Experience, Camden Arts Centre, London, until September 16 2012

The latest in Camden Arts Centre’s excellent series of File Notes (published to accompany each of their shows) is pointing visitors in some unusual directions. Fans of Bruce Lacey are encouraged to check out Coronation Street and Only Fools and Horses.

But it is a wonder how such mainstream tastes could result in the extreme performances and quirky sculptures to be found in this show. One can only conclude that, since Lacey himself is an institution, he shares an affinity with both of these much loved and long running shows.

It is tempting to write "British" institution, since Lacey displays a strain of 1960s zaniness which feels peculiar to these isles. But by his own cheerful admission, this artist has a taste for satire. A series of early appearances with jazz band The Alberts went by the empire-baiting name British Rubbish.

For all that, this octogenarian artist enjoys a fairly marginal relation to the art world. And it is surely as a folky outsider that he drew the attention of this show’s co-curator, artist Jeremy Deller. Lacey’s colourful life plays well on film and Deller’s hour-long documentary, on show here, will make fans of us all.

Colour photo of an artist in a rainbow coloured jumper
Bruce Lacey at his home in Norfolk (2012)© The University of Sussex. Photo: Stuart Robinson
In Gallery One you come face to face with some of its stars, the many automata designed and built in a spirit of dadaesque bricolage. Particularly thrilling is the encounter with R.O.S.A  B.O.S.O.M., a lady robot who gave the artist away at his wedding and proved the unlikely winner of an alternative Miss World competition.

Lacey is nothing if not multi-faceted. So Gallery Two glows with the energy of his shamanistic work. Painted designs on stretched sackcloth here would not be out of place on a reservation for native Americans. So at this point you might detect a lapse from the comedic tone of the rest of the show.

But fortunately, Lacey approaches his relationship with mother earth with the light touch of the rest of his oeuvre. In one moment from Deller’s film, he can be found naked, covered in wode, pushing his way through a vulva made of sticks. It is as ironic or as sincere as you want to make it.

Automaton manufacture and spiritual questing may seem an odd combination of activities. But in a lovely room given over to Lacey’s childhood, a pair of his earliest toys sit beneath a Perspex cube.

These just happen to be a "red indian" doll and the first ever toy robot manufactured in Japan. If there is anything to be learned from this, perhaps as the artist himself claims, childhood whims are worth pursuing.

  • Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm (9pm Wednesday). Admission free.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.

More pictures:

A photo of various frontispieces for books and publications advertising British rubbish
© Angus Mill
A photo of various frontispieces for books and publications including a scientific drawing
© Angus Mill
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