Mark Leckey: Animating Objects

Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff Apr 28 to Jul 15 2012

Turner Prize–winning artist Mark Leckey is marking a Western Canadian solo-show debut with his current installation at the Banff Centre’s Walter Phillips Gallery, which evokes a suburban big-box “power centre” at the same time as it pulls off a remarkable trick of multimedia anthropomorphism. Entering the gallery midway through the artist’s rehearsal at the show’s April 27 opening, viewers were confronted by two monoliths locked in a combatant diptych amid a chroma-key glow: rock versus rock, man versus refrigerator.

To the left of the gallery, a giant quarried shard of Mount Rundle faces off with a blockade of speakers that often emit a torrent of pounding ambient noise. (During the rehearsal, the artist conducted a live-feed sound composition, providing animation for the elements positioned around the gallery. During the run of the installation, the speakers alternate between emitting sound and resting in silence.) The contrast between the flat, absorptive surface of the funereal slab and the emanating, vibrating bass tones can be all encompassing, with the frequencies pounding through one’s rib cage.

To the right, a stately Samsung refrigerator observes casually from the confines of a pastoral green- screen landscape. In the foreground is a TV monitor, sleekly suburban and framed at eye height, featuring the image of the refrigerator centred among a looping phantasmagoria of images: the refrigerator in big-city traffic, the refrigerator in a lush rainforest, and so on. The longer one stares at the video, the more the image of the refrigerator becomes a black hole, allowing one to construct fantasy environments for the projection of this modern totem of consumption to fly through. It allows one to ask the question, Where does the refrigerator want to go next? Meanwhile, the project simultaneously challenges viewers to imagine the interior troves of the modern-day Pandora’s box. Physically existing just beyond you and the televised image, the refrigerator sits. Yet to open it, you must trespass within the green-screen domain, entering the psychic space of the exhibition’s narrative.

This is where the vacant and the ridiculous collide for the viewer: Am I really assigning humane characteristics and emotions to this static object positioned before me, this refrigerator? Or alternatively, is this video-game set a summation presented by the artist merely as a formula for the conditions of artificial intelligence? The thought What am I looking at? oscillates and reverberates with What is looking at me?

The dystopic installation in total comprises a contemporary assemblage on the principles of Magritte’s surrealist painting The Treachery of Images, a sacramental order of representation of representation designed ultimately to give animation to a black void, the transference of which we could apply unendingly to our suburban accoutrements, gadgets, and other essential appliances in an instance of post-apocalyptic loneliness, or even in the less dramatic eventuality of boredom.

Leckey’s layered construct demarcates a fundamental principle of monumental sculpture: giving form to mass. The irony of this remains as the unifying element of the exhibition’s tension: no one did, during the opening, undertake the ultimate action of opening the damned fridge. Perhaps this will change (or perhaps not) when Leckey undertakes his official, finished performance at the Walter Phillips Gallery on July 13 in an ongoing evolution of this exhibition, “BigBoxGreenScreenRefrigeratorActions.”