Mark Leckey animates Dumb Things with artful curation at Nottingham Contemporary

By Mark Sheerin | 02 May 2013

Exhibition review: The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things: Curated by Mark Leckey, Nottingham Contemporary, until June 30 2013

Colour photo of a sculpted minotaur head in a darkened exhibition space
Mark Leckey, The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things. Installation view© David Sillitoe. Courtesy Nottingham Contemporary
It is a commonplace that objects brought into the gallery become artworks. But a touring show in Nottingham has managed to incorporate both objects and artworks while rendering them equal - not as art, but as living things.

No longer is it enough for an artist to point at an object to turn it into art; in the age of Google, he or she can now aggregate items wholesale. At least, that’s what artist and curator Mark Leckey appears to have done here.

In one space a generator chugs away as a ten-metre high inflatable of Felix the Cat billows into a skylight. Next door, green, blue and red chroma key bays house displays given over to the body, machines and the web. They wait on plinths for some studio trickery to render them virtual.

One whole space is given over to cars, those everyday machines which so often get names. Four fat tyres in formation call to mind a showroom and invite you to project an invisible chassis onto them. A clay concept car demonstrates how engineers at Nissan dream their creations to life.

Then, finally, a darkened gallery reverberates with a three-channel sound piece by Florian Hecker. It calls to mind demonic possession, spectral radiowaves and alien abductions. The walls glow with the outlines of giants, including the Cerne Abbas man and André Masson’s headless Acéphale.

Artist and mystic William Blake is represented in this gloom by an enlarged print of his Ghost of a Flea. If that wasn’t frightening enough, then feet away you’ll find techno artiste Aphex Twin in a bikini as he appeared to terrifying effect in a video by Chris Cunningham.

Colour photo of a large inflatable model of Felix the Cat in a gallery
Mark Leckey, The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things. Installation view© David Sillitoe. Courtesy Nottingham Contemporary
The list of works reveals a fairly even split between contemporary art works and historic or technological artefacts. So while this show has been installed in a contemporary gallery, it would be equally at home or equally out of place in a museum.

Perhaps the most telling juxtaposition is between a silver gauntlet and a bionic hand. The former is a reliquary and once contained the bones of a saint. The latter, in a no less miraculous fashion, could turn you into a cyborg. Our human limits are overcome at every turn.

Elsewhere the exhibition veers between frightening (a lifesize maquette of the Minotaur by Nicola Hicks) and funny (a ‘perpetual motion’ rocking phallus by Herman Makkink). More often than not it is both; just take the illustrated bad trip by Louis Wain, a psychedelic portrait of a cat.

Two years in the making, this show is a feat of logistical wrangling as well as artistic vision. Getting hold of two crystal coated engines by Roger Hiorns is one thing. Securing custody of a 664-332 BC Hapi Canopic jar is quite another. And then there is the licence needed to juxtapose said items.

And that’s where Leckey has done more than most curators would dare to do. His 2011 show at the Serpentine demonstrated he could show a monumental piece by Henry Moore alongside a speaker stack from a rave. He can set objects in dialogue and break with the odd shibboleth.

The result is a show with something for everyone, be that a Cyberman helmet or a Richard Prince sculpture. No great love or knowledge of art is needed to enjoy this visual essay about the future and the past. And that’s a paradox given how much art has gone into the planning.

  • Open 10am-7pm (6pm Saturday, 11am-5pm Sunday, closed Monday). Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @Nottm_Contemp
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