13-15 May 2011 — Motorcade Flashparade, Philips Road, Bristol
Ownership, credit and modern art practice are all under the spotlight in this joint exhibition between Matthew Roy Arnold and Liam Rush. A series of pieces titled `Self portraits 1 through 6' line one wall. They each show a Chinese national painted in a typical portrait pose in style which are clearly idiosyncratic to the fabricator, however each is signed by `Matthew Roy Arnold'. The message is apparently clear – who fabricates the work matters.
Left: Ideas for Sale, Centre: Works by Liam Rush, Right: Outsourced Self Portraits
Across the room lies a series of sealed envelopes, each ostensibly containing an original concept for a work of art. As the artist took pains to explain during the showing, each was for sale. Part of the sale conditions was that Matthew would transfer all intellectual property rights to the new owner and the exchange take place privately and under an agreement such that Matthew could not reveal that he is the originator of the idea.
Outsourced Self Portraits.
Self Portraits 1 to 6 highlight the fragility of concept and in `Ideas for Sale' we find ourselves questioning the sanctity of concept. Between the two bodies of work we have a collective assault on the notion of concept as supreme. The artist is seemingly pushing for the importance of a different yardstick for measuring the virtues of a piece of art, namely the role of authenticity.
Matthew has explored notions of authenticity before in his works. For example in Sistine Table, a projector showed slides of a painting which was situated on the underside of the same table the projector rested on. For those who figured out the painting was there, the projected image suddenly ceased to be the artwork and became instead a mere reproduction. Similarly a bought concept under a contract, such as that in Ideas for Sale, is something akin to a brilliant forgery in that the world believes it to be genuine but it is actually totally inauthentic. In this case only the artist knows it isn't authentic and so perhaps this exhibition is really a moralistic lecture for other artists?
Idea for Sale
The above conclusion would align with 'Work' (the title of the exhibition) in the sense of artistic practice, however it could also be referring to the nature in which The Self Portraits were commissioned. The instructions for the commissions were sent to an overseas art agency which brokered the work to freelancers in Defan in the Guangdong province of China – famous for being one of the world centres of art reproduction. The commission was to do a self portrait and for there to be no signature with the commission price being low by western standards. More than a few commentators felt unease at the practice which could be construed as exploitative – whether or not this is the case is a matter of judgement. Liam Rush's work also seem evocative of work and exploitation but in a different sense. Partially sanded car parts lend a mechanics workshop feel to the far end of the exhibition but also the fact that the work was created whilst on company time also drives themes of work and exploitation albeit of a less sinister kind.