Review: Mark Leckey at OUTPUT gallery

Words, Carol Emmas

Tapping into the emotions that nostalgia can create is Mark Leckey’s artistic obsession. Clawing memories from his own experiences in order to find the emotional trigger that can spark a visceral response is something he attempts to bottle autobiographically in the hope that someone might relate to those self-same experiences.

Ahead of his major exhibition at Tate Britain later in 2019, ‘We are Untitled’ is an attempt to try to prolong a moment in time. It’s a moving still that is mined and retrieved after the lens has clicked and the photo has been immortalised. The film begins as an almost intangible memory with a set of subliminal moments as if the brain is taking its time in remembering the finer details in bringing back to life a party from 20 years ago in London’s Windmill Street. A place where Birkenhead-born Leckey was living at the time and trying to make it as an artist whilst claiming benefits.

Seven years later, Leckey would win the Turner Prize (2008). However, what’s interesting about the post-narrative of the film (as the artist points out) are the changes that have taken place over the subsequent 20 years which make for a very different London. In 2008, Leckey’s London was the city where many fully-funded college graduates came to try to make it as an artist with the support of social security benefits and cheap or no-cost living that allowed them to do so. It would be impossible to live in the London of today on so little money. The DWP under this government wouldn’t allow freedom to claim benefits and not be highly micro-managed into finding work.

We are Untitled, focuses on the UK Garage scene which Leckey was part of at the time. The party is frankly a bit shit. It’s one of those parties where not much happens and the people have to drink or get stoned to feel like they are having a good time and instead slip into a semi-catatonic state. As with Leckey’s other work, there a strong macho overtone. It’s all about the body language and the posturing of men (if there are any women in it – they are fleeting). It’s about drinking, smoking, looking stoned, music, dancing, brand names, trainers and pack-mentality, similarly to his equally hypnotic 1999 Fiorucci made me Hardcore (which is on YouTube and worth a watch). Another piece of his autobiographical work worth taking time to watch is Dream English Kid 1964 – 1999 AD. This is another film-collage of subcultural nostalgia, which if you were around in the 1970s is a recollection of all the elements Leckey feels are emotionally symbolic enough to be shared, including brief footage of a Joy Division gig that he attended in 1979 at Eric’s.

It’s ironic to think that many of the artists (including the YBAs) who were squatting and living on benefits in the 1970s and 80s in order to fund their art are now the very pillars of the arts establishment. It’s not a bad argument in support of the universal basic income or living wage.

Output Gallery, February 7 – 24.

Words, Carol Emmas