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Review: Tim Spooner’s New Kind of Animal at Bluecoat

“We’re slipping on liquid skeletons

The exhibition is centred around an intensely daft room, packed full of animatronics. Then there’s a backdrop of Tim Spooner’s collage, painting and sculpture pinned to walls, tied together by a story that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

All of it is joyful and, on the face of it, nonsensical. Most of all, lines like the above, and the unforgettable compounded words and phrases that accompany “squeletons” on wall after wall of scrawled text.

There’s a danger of over-trivialising this work, but there’s an equal danger of under-evaluating it too. For example, I could tell you that on my first visit to the exhibition, a man walking along the walls, reading beside me, stopped me and said he’d never been to a gallery before, but he loved that it was just funny and “gettable”. It’s true, and it’s important because this exhibition is genuinely enjoyable.

But, there’s more going on. Both in terms of what Tim Spooner is trying to say and the pedestal he’s saying it from.

The entire thing comes out of metaphysics, a philosophical trigger for artistic creation so steeped in blind egotism that artists rarely touch it any more (and one that can quickly alienate audiences), but it’s broken down, pre-production, into what feels like a list of targets for engagement; being, knowing, identity, time and space.

By weaving these five portions of metaphysics into the creation of his new kind of animal, they have identities. There’s an honesty and liveliness to each creature writhing around on the gallery floor, and that means anybody engaging with them is engaging with animatronics that share those fundamental metaphysical markers, somewhere in their make-up.

Here is about the point that I slow down, because, like I said, there’s little value in over-evaluating, and less in over-trivialising. If you’re coming to see contemplative contemporary art, it’s an outstanding show. If you just want to smile, it’s even better.

Whether the exhibition achieves what it explicitly sets out to or not, I don’t really think matters, because it opens you up. When you’re in that room, surrounded by quivering mechanical creatures, each equally playful and pained, you’re trapped with your thoughts, and very accessible empathetic triggers.

When I left, the creatures, the statements, the jokes stayed with me. They opened up joy and encouraged some ongoing effort to feel for Tim Spooner’s creations beyond time spent with them. And it’s all mixed. Somewhere between sharing the anxiety of those trapped by their own wires, and giggling along with the dancing (or fighting) pairs.

Tim Spooner: A New Kind of Animal is open at Bluecoat until 21st January 2024
Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith