WHAT LIES BENEATH
A Depicted Horse is not a Critique of a Horse/ Consumption Channelled
by Liam Gillick Matte black vinyl on wall/ powder-coated aluminium. Courtesy of the artist and Kerlin Gallery
LONDON-BRED, New Yorkbased Liam Gillick decided to study law and philosophy, become “an activist lawyer or some kind of highly-educated troublemaker” — but in 1982, aged 18, he “shifted his ideological focus”, chose culture over politics and committed completely to art.
Music, design, punk, fanzines, “having your own band and making posters and strange projections” all helped. As a teenager, London’s ICA was “incredibly important” and remains “a big fan of ‘arts’ centres, their mixed programmes suck in disaffected young people looking for something new. Painting once interested him. “I did some at college. Pretty bad. A very large kitten’s head. A self-portrait from behind, driving a car with my ears on the rear-view mirror to see if anyone would notice. Coal miners breaking the 1980s strike wondering where all their friends had gone.”
A part of him thinks that “painting operates best in relation to all other paintings whereas I am more interested in the question of what art
could be in a much broader sense”.
Though he found painting “too limiting, too endless or too pompous” he was “completely intoxicated” by art college. Gillick tried everything — “a cow out of an office desk, a film of me cutting up a chair while sitting on it”, and his degree show was a wall of cut-out wooden panels representing all uninhabited American-occupied islands in the world that have military bases.
The Gillicks were Irish Catholics, from Cavan, Meath, who emigrated in the 19th Century. Liam relates some family history. “One grandfather, a Lanarkshire coalminer, later worked in Harrow on a Kodak production line and actually died at work developing someone’s holiday snaps,” he says.
(And as a boy, Gillick used to draw on “lots of weird yellow paper, used to separate the photographic paper”.)
His other grandfather was an Edwardian Londoner and engineer.
Gillick’s meticulous new Dublin show, a playful conversation between past and present, was partly-inspired by Siegfried Giedion’s “amazing” 1948 book Mechanization Takes Command — in it, a medieval monk dreams of Volvo, an armoured knight imagines a futuristic steely shape (which appears next to it in the exhibition). Graphics and tightly-composed minimalist works are side by side.
For Gillick “historical characters in tension with recent models of production and aesthetics lengthen our understanding of modernity” and the works are influenced by “processes of renovation, development, and updating that we see and feel all around us”. Using notebooks, his computer and two engineers, “we work together on the sculptures. I