19th July – 21 October 2012
The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
Sarah Lucas places a large, pink polystyrene lump in the middle of a gallery and calls it ‘Spam’. Without the need for pretence, Lucas creates work that directly engages the viewer; whether her work is aesthetically pleasing or not – it holds attention. Ordinary Things explores Sarah Lucas’ sculptural work from 1993 to 2012 and contains a mixture of iconic pieces such as ‘Au Naturel’ and more recent work in the form of ‘Jubilee’ and the ‘NUDS’ series.
The Henry Moore Institute, founded in 1977, has been used as a platform for artists and a centre for research, ever questioning the study of sculpture and its place in society. For Lucas, the term ‘sculpture’ is used not only to describe traditional sculptural methods such as casting and moulding, but also the manipulation of found objects. The use of the ‘ordinary’ runs throughout the exhibition: everyday, often banal objects are enhanced or placed in a different context, instilling a new significance and evoking references to sex, gender, and a larger social commentary.
Even before you enter the gallery you are confronted through the glass doors with the stuffed tights of ‘Suffolk Bunny’. Presented as a kind of reluctant invitation, the legs are spread – however the form lies limp on the chair. Behind it, the soiled mattress and provocative vegetables of ‘Au Naturel’ are found. Created in 1993, ‘Au Naturel’ is one of Lucas’ most prominent artworks and perhaps serves at the centre point for the exhibition, due to its fame. However, alongside these playful, often titillating works are also more poignant pieces such as ‘Unknown Soldier’. This piece is composed of two large concrete boots, and between them, a long strip light is lent vertically against the wall. It serves as a remembrance for thousands of dead soldiers, but thanks to its simple, uniformed presentation, it also seems to comment on the anonymity of them. You could go as far to say that the presence of the light also comments on the glorification of death in a military environment; soldiers die for their country and yet are still unknown.
After the evocative nature of ‘Unknown Soldier’ it was quite refreshing to be confronted with ‘Big Fat Anarchic Spider’ in the next gallery. Although visually the stuffed tights weren’t very appealing, the brazen gesture was. I overheard a small child simply state ‘spider’ when they came across it. Again she elicits no act of the extraordinary – it is what is. The same goes for the phallic objects littered throughout her art; they are so present, they become ordinary. Her work shocks – but at the same time it normalises provocative aspects of life through its candid presentation.
An element I like about Lucas’ work are the imperfections: the process (such as mark-making and the rough edges of casting)remains visible. This is also evident in the display of the artwork, with a great deal of the works elevated on concrete breeze blocks rather than conventional white plinths. This adds to the sense of the ‘ordinary’ nature of the exhibits – that they do not need to be on a prestigious plinth in order to be admired. However, this concept also seems to have been applied in reverse: the smallest objects in the exhibition,- such as concrete casts of vegetables, a pie, and other such forms – are displayed on a white shelf as if they were museum artifacts. It is as if Lucas and the curator, Lisa Le Feuvre, are playing on the notion of the traditional methods of display, and turning it on its head.
The human form is an overriding theme throughout this exhibition. The ‘NUDS’ in particular, evoke both the beauty and grotesque nature of bodies. The word ‘nud’ comes from the word ‘nuddy’, a word Lucas’ mother used instead of naked. They are a series of twisting, interlocked forms made out of stuffed nude tights. Some remind me of crouched, vulnerable figures, whereas others look like a pile of intestines or large swollen worms.
This exhibition has been described by the institute as focusing more on the ‘sculptural than the sensation’ – however, I do not think you separate these elements, as they are both so integral to her practice. The exhibition is versatile enough to portray the humour in her work, the references to sex; but above all, the idea of everyday life comes through strongest.
Image: Kouk on Flickr used under a creative commons licence