The ‘Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore’ and Turner Prize winning artist utilises a hypnotic technique to channel a paranormal experience from his childhood
Mark Leckey is one of Britain’s most influential contemporary artists. After the large-scale survey show hosted by MoMA PS1 last year, he has returned for a considerably smaller, yet no less charged, exhibition at North London’s Cubitt Gallery – an artist-run, not-for-profit. This also marks the second exhibition of Helen Nisbet’s eighteen-month curatorial fellowship. Leckey, born in 1964, has worked across sculpture, installation, sound, performance, and video, along with working as a musician and DJ. Renowned for seminal works such as Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999) and his Turner Prize-winning exhibition in 2008, his practice has converged an interest in technology and popular culture with powerful comments on class and history.
Titled Affect Bridge Age Regression, the exhibition explores Leckey’s childhood memory of a concrete motorway bridge on the M53, which has been a recurring presence throughout much of his recent work. Leckey has recreated the bridge in model form, even complete with the graffiti, which sits centre stage in the space at Cubitt. The bridge is real and exists on the outskirts of Birkenhead, where Leckey grew up. He describes it as “a Hungry Ghost standing at the very end of the 20th century”; “it is nostalgically attached to him like an out of sight body part or chimera’s mutated limb, acting as a conduit for memory, technology and somatic effect.” Recurrence, reconsideration and reworking are intrinsic to Leckey’s practice. The title of the exhibition refers to a hypnotherapy technique that associates bodily feelings back to its earliest memory.
Along with the bridge, Leckey has installed sodium street lamps, which bathe the gallery space in a Lucozade-orange glow. Multiple copies of two contrasting posters (one from the French Situationists, the other is a front page from The Sun newspaper) are pasted across one wall, in the style of urban flyposting. A chanted sound piece, which was recorded specifically for the show (and performed live on opening night), reverberates throughout the room. It aims to banish the demons and ghosts who lurk around the bridge, and in indeed in our everyday life. Over email, Leckey talked us through the thoughts behind each individual part of the show.
The exhibition is titled in reference to a technique used in hypnotherapy to associate recurrent bodily feelings back to its earliest memory. Could you talk about this nostalgic tendency in your work to evoke and re-experience memories, often through archival footage and ephemera, and how that relates to this particular show?
Mark Leckey: I just used it because it had the words ‘bridge’ and ‘regression’ in it. I’d used the bridge in a video I made called Dream English Kid 1964-1999 AD (2015) and it continued to haunt me afterwards. It was always about being under the bridge – where I had a paranormal experience as a child). I figured that below a motorway bridge, in contrast to everything above moving at speed, nothing is really moving, it’s just picking up the vibrations. And those soundwaves don’t die, they continue reverberating over time. Which, in my head, became a flaky allegory for the vast archive available to us all now, and how that converts the movement of time into a sort of motionless space. So we get stuck there, under the bridge, re-experiencing memories, over and over and over again.
What about your distinctive, aesthetic choice of orange sodium lights?
Mark Leckey: The orange sodium lights are called Sox Lamps and they were installed everywhere up until the 1990s, I think. They’ve been phased out now. The Lucozade glow they give off was always an indicator that you were coming up on magic mushrooms, psychedelics would amplify that colour saturation, or rather that leaching out of all other colour. I want the lamps to do the same thing at Cubitt, put you in that altered state.
And the posters?
Mark Leckey: The French poster is from 1968 and was made by the Atelier Populaire. It's a Situationist-style critique of the media from back then, a warning about how the broadcast of sound and images intoxicates and pollutes the body. That’s the environment I was born into, polluted by both television and Tetra Ethyl lead petrol. The sodium lights are visibly poisonous. But mainly I wanted that poster in the show because the figure looks to me like he is impersonating a bridge. The Sun poster is from the eclipse of August 1999, an event which heralded both TEOTWAWKI and a millenarian cleansing. I liked the juxtaposition of the masthead of The Sun with this giant black hole. I also thought it visually represented the void of morality at the heart of that paper.
Your ‘Sound System’ sculptures often play a series of snippets of vocals, bass lines, and bodily sounds. How does the soundtrack in this exhibition differ?
Mark Leckey: It’s more like “March of the Big White Barbarians”, a song I did with a band I was in called Jack Too Jack. That was a kind of ritual chant made modern. Lots of people shouting at sculpture.
What do you want the audience to come away feeling?
Mark Leckey: Nauseous and gassy? Elated and euphoric? Disabused of their shibboleths, fonder of bridges, drained?
Mark Leckey Affect Bridge Age Regression runs until 30 July 2017 at London’s Cubitt