Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
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United Enemies looks at work made by artists in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s, a time when the idea of sculpture was being radically contested.
This was a period of particular importance for sculpture, a time when it could no longer be defined only as an object. United Enemies cuts across practices, publications and institutions to present artworks arranged around three provocations: ‘Manual Thinking’, ‘Standing’ and ‘Groundwork’.
The exhibition begins with Roelof Louw’s Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) 1967: a work containing over 6,000 oranges painstakingly composed in order to be physically participated in and enjoyed. Over the course of the exhibition, the pyramid depletes as visitors help themselves to oranges.
Sculpture from this period took the form of performance, film, drawing and photography. From Keith Arnatt’s Art as an Act of Retraction 1972 showing the artist eating each of the words of the sentence ‘Eleven portraits of the artist about to eat his own words’, to McLean’s photographic work People Who Make Art in Glass Houses 1969 where the artist is pictured surrounded by the debris of his own work, other media was pulled into the sculptural argument.
In the photographic album An English Frontier 1972, Richard Long took sculpture out of the gallery, documenting a walk conducted in the company of Tony Cragg, Roger Ackling, Jim Rogers and Bill Woodrow. The location of sculpture was further contested through its place in the pages of magazines, journals and newspapers.
Sculpture is a constantly expanding field, mired in contestation and interrogation. United Enemies demonstrates how this highly fertile and experimental period formed the ground from which contemporary sculpture has grown.
Bruce Lacey, Old Money Bags 1964
“The spectacle of mass-consumption turned into a fully functioning robot dictator made out of his own discarded products, simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.”
Old Money Bags is an electronic robot, assembled from found rubbish, including an old tailor’s dummy, the hand from a shop mannequin, a bike chain and the counting mechanism from inside a till.
It is designed so that whenever a viewer shouts into the attached microphone, the contraption slowly grinds into action, pumping bags of money through the ‘heart’ of the piece.
Barry Martin, Programmed Shape Development 1968
Programmed Shape Development is a wall-mounted kinetic sculpture, made in polished aluminium, with double-axel discs mounted on metal rods projecting from the surface and four motors, one connecting to each quadrant of discs.
The discs spin around, reflecting the light and the surrounding environment and creating complex optical effects in which the discs seem to share the same surface despite their staggered composition.
“Statically developed shapes generate new classes of shapes and forms in movement. Front and back shapes move independently from each other. The aluminium shapes were thought of as fragments of the space they inhabited.”
The circular or rotary movement is typical of Martin’s work of the 1960s – in a contemporary interview, he described his interpersonal relationships in terms of a circular movement between himself and the outside world.
List of artists in the exhibition
Paul de Monchaux
Gilbert and George