Private view – 12th April 6-9pm
Drawing influence from either side of the Modernist movement, ‘White Teeth in the Planetarium’ presents a series of dystopian sculptures made from pigmented wax, fiberglass, clear acrylic, paint and plastic laminate. Monumental forms and fragmented arrangements are dressed up in fake-façades, forging unstable material relationships. Ziggurats, ellipses and fluting dissect more purposeful lines. Art Deco meets Brutalism – Liverpool’s Queensway and Kingsway ventilation buildings in conversation.
A large folded screen divides the gallery, its thick waxy surface embossed with an Art Deco motif resembling a grandiose doorway or portal. Behind this sits a black shiny megalithic slab with a deep bowl containing a puddle of liquid. Upon this a fleshy lump of wax is sandwiched between the two sides of a clear acrylic shell form. Symbolism is embraced and abstracted here as with other works throughout the show.
Whether through detailed, opulently finished or more immediate processes, McLardy’s sculptures represent an artist intent on questioning notions of aesthetical and materialist authenticity through quizzical and sometimes comic means.
During the opening weekend of the exhibition The Royal Standard will be facilitating a Question and Answer session with James McLardy on 13th April at 1pm-2.30pm
Poster designed and screen printed by Helen de Main
“Science fiction writers have posited parallel worlds closely similar to the world we know, but in which our counterpart selves pursue lives very different from our own. The story […] left me with an uncanny sense of such a world.”
At the beginning of The Separateness of Things, Victor Burgin describes a moment of strange displacement. While preparing a talk about the artist Edward Hopper, Burgin comes across a news report about Detective Sgt. Burgin, of Cherryville, North Carolina who is searching for a suspected murderer called Edward Hopper. The strangeness that seeps out from this moment comes not just from the coincidence of names, but from the sense that there is another story here, and one in which we may be implicated unknowingly. The sense of discovering that somewhere we are doing something else – that there may be a moment in which we are elsewhere – is disconcerting, dreamlike, and peculiar. We look down and our hands are suddenly not quite our own. We look up and our city is made strange to us. We look out across the river and the waters seem alien, but only partly unknown.
In White Teeth in the Planetarium, James McLardy looks up and describes an architecture that is at once strange and yet also recognisable. Look closely now. The structures he presents us with have the quality of a dream that has slipped below the surface of our conscious remembering.
This fluting here – ah and I remember: it must be a trace of Deco (and I have seen it somewhere, elsewhere, but I don’t remember when).
This smear of liquid in the concave dip of a bowl: where did it come from? I don’t recall. Did it come from me? Perhaps, though perhaps not (my body does not recall a discharge).
This screen; this alter/table/thing; this monolith: their forms are sometimes recognisable, but their functions are oblique. They are life-sized, but how do they want us to behave?
McLardy’s architectural landscape is alien, handcrafted, fleshy, austere, contradictory. Deliberate and purposeful, these works may seem to be so completely premeditated that they are wholly explicable as the sum of their exquisitely positioned parts. And yet? And yet: look sideways at these forms and you may see that other images lie, bobbing just beneath the surface of the objects’ conscious manufacture.
Perhaps two unknown men may stand erect, decorated and brutal, but breathing. Who are these men, and who are they to each other, or to us? Standing on either side of Modernism, they are wax smeared panels, dripping and dystopian. They are the sure curve of a pink wax cake. They are a plastic shell crushed onto something soft and unresisting. Repeating a motif may give us structure.
As Victor Burgin prepares his paper he is a detective, and his subject has committed murder. This is as true as the world in which Burgin writes, and his subject is a painter. As James McLardy’s otherworld rises beneath the craft of his hands, it may grow closer to the surface of the visible. This is science fiction. This is fact. This is wax, copper, wood. This is the outline of a plastic shell squeezed onto something soft and unresisting. Look closely.
 Victor Burgin, The Separateness of Things, Tate Papers, Issue 3, 01/04/05.
Jack Welsh talks to Glasgow based sculptor James McLardy about his current solo exhibition White Teeth in the Planetarium - (Opens in a new window)at The Royal Standard, Liverpool.
Jack Welsh: What inspired the title of your exhibition at The Royal Standard?
James McLardy: The title, White Teeth at the Planetarium, comes from having read a Robert Smithson- (Opens in a new window) essay. In the essay, he is walking around Hayden Planetarium in New York describing the anomalies between things; a source of a fake reality and the idea of the expanded universe – but then there is a fire escape sign in the middle of the room. I was interested in this contradiction and reality. With this show, it feels like there is something alien about the work.
JW: How does the Queensway tunnel in Liverpool feature in certain works in the exhibition?
JM: When I visited Liverpool last year, I noticed the amount of 1930′s buildings in the city. Returning to Smithson, I drew on his fascination with the Art Deco period as high art as opposed to the International Style- (Opens in a new window). It was a progressive period that wasn’t self-conscious of using exotic motifs in architecture. This brought me to the Queensway ventilation tower. There is a hint of the building in this work: the emerald wax I use is synonymous with what I consider to be the seedy municipality present in other central Liverpool buildings from this era. This colour provides a context without being specific, allowing visitors to make their own associations.
JW: Looking back at projects you have undertaken in other cities, you appear to engage with its architecture from your position as a visitor: do you often converse with architecture in this manner?
JM: I suppose it is incidental. I’m definitely interested in disturbing discipline and architecture represents a form of discipline. At the same time I strive to find a way to belittle that in architecture. In sculpture traditionally, making large works feels like a masculine ego driven activity. My work seeks to demasculate this process by attempting to pull it apart, ruin and fragment it. This has enabled me to establish an ‘other’ language, and in these works, there is an element of the dystopian.
JW: To me your sculptures are strongly idiosyncratic but they also appear to be part of a collection or installation.
JM: With this show there is an attempt to engage with a municipality. I use the language of public and classical sculpture to draw people to a collection of works that becomes an installation. However I think it is important that the room is viewed together, so yes, both.
JW: The visual contradictions of your sculpture frequently include a cerebral engagement with the plinth. How do you employ the plinth in your work?
JM: I use the traditional neoclassical plinth to subvert my installations and vice versa. A lot of artists generally engage with socialist etiquette and aesthetic but the type of work I make can’t purvey that. As I’m making the sculptures myself, I focus on using the plinth as a metaphor for what’s not there. The fragmentation in my work allows me to develop an ambiguity, such as a hint of a plinth, but it’s the space in between that is important. The lack of a plinth brings things off an imagined pedestal and allows for the subversion of hierarchy: are they plinths or are they decorative objects?
JW: Does this materialist subversion validate your engagement with modernism and other movements?
JM: When I am researching topics such as architecture, modernism or design; I’m actually just creating reference points for my work. The thing that I find it hard to explain if I am researching styles, such as Brutalism- (Opens in a new window) and Art Deco- (Opens in a new window), is the space in between them. What is that? What does it mean? They’re the really important personal and social questions for me.
JW: Monuments are traditionally physically dominant forms that have been erected to celebrate and commemorate: they are also often representative of hierarchies of power. In what way does your work seek to engage with these associations?
JM: In a way that is where the use of facades in my work comes in. Aesthetically they are close to being an illusion or deception of these subjects. However these works aren’t just taken from real life but are rather influenced by my own thoughts or imaginings. For this exhibition, I wrote a story about two different people from two different eras on either side of modernism. One character is an actor, about 80, who was born in 1930′s and remembers the era of Lawrence of Arabia and decadent exoticism. The other is a fat balding 40-year-old motorcyclist who sits on his own at a table. You used the word idiosyncratic to describe my works earlier and I often think of my work as a combination of my own ideas with other recognisable elements.
JW: Do you consider the rich titles of your work as devices to enhance perceptions of grandeur for your objects?
JM: Definitely. With my titles, I am finding ways to make connections between the physical form and other things that I’m thinking about – or it can be another way to subvert the work. Sometimes they are just poetic, which can bring something new and hint at a wider reading of the work.
JW: Has being based at Glasgow Sculpture Studios- (Opens in a new window) influenced your preference of using traditional processes and materials?
JM: My work relies so much on making that if it wasn’t for the Sculpture Studios, I’d perhaps be making a different type of work, maybe with similar themes as they are an intrinsic part of my personality, but having facilities and people around has enabled this work. Without the studios it would be too expensive to make this work: but I like that contradiction. Also there is something understated about the socialist romanticism that exists in Glasgow but at the same time, there isn’t a culture of making things to a high aesthetic level in my peer group. In a way, being in Glasgow, where lots people are making different types of work, has allowed me to evolve a series of rules in my practice that has allowed me to find myself in my work.
White Teeth in the Planetarium at The Royal Standard, Liverpool runs until 28 April 2013.
Jack Welsh is a Liverpool-based artist, writer and arts administrator.