David Shrigley has an affinity with worms. 20 huge plastic earthworms comically inflated and deflated at the artist’s solo presentation in Denmark’s Copenhagen Contemporary last year. “Eat a worm,” a 2018 painting of Shrigley’s suggests, among a knot of pink fleshy tubes, “just one then I will stop asking”. Another sketch shows a man, head back in ecstasy, mouth full of invertebrates.
Worms are essential for the making of champagne, the drink at the centre of Shrigley’s bar in collaboration with Ruinart at this year’s Frieze London. Each year, Maison Ruinart invites an artist to work with them on a bespoke project and, following Liu Bolin and Vik Muniz, Shrigley is the latest to give his artistic spin on the champagne house. For the collection, he looked in detail at production of the sparkling drink and how tiny variations within nature and the weather could have a huge impact on the bubbles. Soil needs loosening and oxygenating for the growing of grapes, which worms are chiefly responsible for.
Dazed went down to the bar at Frieze last night (October 13) for its VIP preview evening, an oasis for thirsty art lovers fatigued by glimpsing works by Yayoi Kusama, Wolfgang Tillmans, and John Giorno. Around an all-white bar scrawled with Shrigley’s sketches, bottles were popping and flutes of blanc de blancs and rosé flying off trays. Guests (who included art world names like Yinka Ilori as well as David himself) were invited to send postcards of the displayed works via a designated red Shrigley postbox.
The result of the link-up, Unconventional Bubbles, is a collection of 36 drawings and gouaches, three neons, two ceramics, and a doorway that tackle our post-pandemic world as well as the looming climate crisis. Among Shrigley’s childlike and pithy works was a Roman-style entrance titled ‘elegance’ through which visitors had to crawl (ironically, the security on the bar’s main entrance was tight, but the elegance tunnel? Unmanned).
Bringing the ‘high-end’ perception of wine-making back down to earth for those perplexed by terms like crayères, coffret, and cuvée, Shrigley’s pieces explore the root to cork process, from picking to fermenting, in his accessible, witty style. His pieces explain how the sun and rain, bees and worms, humans and micro-organisms, air and soil, all come together to make the final product.
Another of Shrigley’s focuses was on the climate crisis and environmental issues currently faced by growers and vineyards, delivered through a comic lens. A magnifying glass invited viewers to look closer at a miniature placard asking us not to destroy the planet. Tasked with designing a casing for the bottles, Shrigley opted for an eco-friendly 100 per cent paper sheath as the bottle’s second skin.
“Worms work harder than us,” explains the painting that is Shrigley’s focus artwork of the exhibit. It’s a disconcerting notion for our perpetually close-to-burnout selves, but one that’s probably accurate: tbh, I’d rather spend the day on Zoom than burrowing into earth.
You can explore Shrigley’s Unconventional Gallery virtually below.