Books

'What the Hell Are You Doing?' This Is the David Shrigley Universe. Do You Want to Go There?

Gabrielle Malcolm

If art is meant to be creative and communicate ideas, that then prompt ideas and imaginative scenarios in the heads of others, then Shrigley makes art. If that is what art is.


What the Hell Are You Doing?: The Essential David Shrigley

Publisher: W.W. Norton
Price: $35.00
Author: David Shrigley
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2011-10
Amazon

Squiggles, or ‘Shriggles’. That’s what you can call them. Some are. Some are concepts or mottos for life – written in pen on a scrap of paper. Some things are sculpture. Things and Shriggles. Shrigley’s universe. The Shrigleyverse. Do you want to go there?

David Shrigley tapes a note, handwritten on cardboard, to a lamp post underneath a blob of clay in the shape of a little head. It reads: ‘Notice’ – While you are reading this there is a man in one of the windows high above you who is taking your photograph. He will make a wee model of you and put it with other wee models of other people. Then he plays weird games with them.’

So be prepared. If you enter Shrigley’s world then weird games happen, the exact nature of which are left to our imagination. If art is meant to be creative and communicate ideas, that then prompt ideas and imaginative scenarios in the heads of others, then Shrigley makes art. It works. But that’s only if that is what art is. And we do not know what we all mean by art and so we can all relate when Shrigley captions ‘Artists Talk About Their Work’ with:

‘Artist: I went around town and asked dossers if I could buy their underpants from them. I got six pairs for £5 each and used them for my show in France.’

‘Artist: I go around bars at the weekends and deliberately get into fights and get my head kicked in while a friend of mine videos it.’

Shrigley appears to be popping the bubble of pretentiousness and wind-baggery in the art world. But simultaneously he appears to be adding to it with some of his own comments and conceptual pieces: such as the stuffed animals bearing placards that read ‘I’m Dead’. He is both thumbing his nose at the art establishment and also bearing witness to its necessary (evil?) existence. His work is mundane and simultaneously troubling, and what writer Will Self in the introduction calls ‘terrifyingly archaic’. By this he means that ‘Shrigley-world’, in his view, is populated with ‘demons and bogey-beasts’, and ‘stick-figure shamans’.

Shrigley is a Midlands-born artist, who trained at Glasgow’s School of Art. He is more Gen-X than existentialist, more about plumbing the depths of the sub-conscious than scaling the heights of the sublime. Never have more unaccomplished looking doodles signified so much, however. Endowed with a shamanistic quality they are reminiscent of Neolithic cave drawings, or Egyptian hieroglyphs (especially when his figures are drawn stiff-limbed and in profile).

But funny – mostly funny. The effort seems minimal, until you get to the beautifully polished and carved headstone he has photographed, which reads ‘Bread, milk, cornflakes, baked beans, tomatoes, aspirin, biscuits,’ or the small Mexican Day of the Dead skull, perfectly carved from a raw potato.

So, above all, Shrigley is contradictory and surprising. Just when you think he is being ‘fnarr, fnarr’ and oh-so-ironic, or clever-clever sending up the orthodox view; he will then come out with a bleak, bitter, nihilistic statement that pulls you up short.

I will finish on an appropriate Schrigley-ism: ‘My only task is to fill the page. You have not been given a task.’

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image