Last tour, I had a knack of arriving in towns when their art galleries were closed or between big exhibitions. I began to feel that the gallery establishment had a grudge. This tour has been far more successful. My first and only gallery failure was Leeds City Gallery. They are fixing in their roof holes, which is a good idea, otherwise their Hockneys will begin to run and smear.
Next door is the Henry Moore Institute and its bold but small exhibition was striking enough to eradicate the disappointment of not seeing the work of Bob and Roberta Smith and Susan Hillier’s poignant memorial.
The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics is a collection of art and objects inspired by replacement limbs and jaws, and some are the articles themselves. In a glass cabinet sit a series of Sigmund Freud’s prosthetic jaws. Despite the increasing agonies of having to place them in his mouth, nothing curtailed his voracious appetite for cigars. Maybe he was right about that oral fixation, that one that overrides even the cancerous rotting of your jaw.
Beneath the jaws of Freud, there is a box that is the work of the often overlooked artist, the Ministry of Defence. It is a wooden case containing 14 different appliances that can be attached to an artificial limb. (image below is not from exhibition)
That mundane cloud of disquiet about humanity sneaks in as you look around. Every night on tour, Brian Cox reads out that excerpt for Pale Blue Dot where Carl Sagan reminds us to “think about all the blood shed so men could be the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot”. How many of these ingenious limbs or the facial prosthesis were required due to the land lust and egos of those who have the power to force young humans into conflict? How many were required due to needless industrial injury caused by safety regulations avoided as they would hamper profit and prestige?
And then you think that it is these worst traits of devious ingenuity that cause the best elements of human ingenuity to arise. All of the thought and design and empathy that has gone into ensuring those who have been damaged for the purposes of greed and control can live the rest of their life as fruitfully as possible. For over 50 years the Lovell telescope has been interrogating the universe, yet the technology required arose from the finance of war. Donald Ingber of the Wyss Institute told me that the leaps in nanomedicine for treatment of sepsis have been possible due to the army’s need to control it in the field of war. Who will win inside the skull, the reptile or the primate? To have a better world it seems we still need to have a worse one too.
A poster on the wall is a reminder that it may not be lax industry regulations that sever limbs on the factory floor or under the grindstone. Beware the fruits of horseplay…
Heinrich Hoerle’s Monument to the Unknown Prosthesis may be the most famous work on the wall, perhaps because it is the illustration on the cover of my copy of Brave New World. His Cripple’s Portfolio was new to me, a simple pen and ink rendering of post world war one loss.
Further on there was Matthew Barney’s The Cabinet of Bessie Gilmore, an enigmatic piece which consists of a plastic corset, salt, tubes and stick legs. I like Matthew Barney almost as much for his titles as the physical work (“Blind Perineum”, “Mile High Threshold: Blind Flight with the Anal Sadistic Warrior”) . There is something creepily biological about this piece, as if there had been a creature that grew in it, a botched attempt at synthetic nature, and it had lived and died and failed in the scientist’s eyes.
Yael Bartana has created Degenerate Art Lives, an animation based around a lost Otto Dix painting. The soundtrack alone is horribly stirring and what it stirs makes your skin and knuckles crackle.
And now I have to find more of the eccentric art of Rebecca Horn. I wish I could carry off a hat, but I haven’t got the head for it.
The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics is at Henry Moore Institute, Leeds until 23rd October.
This seems the right time to mention that there are only about 100 tickets left for our Compendium of Reason show at Hammersmith on 16th December, one of the main charities we donate the profits to is Medecins Sans Frontieres (and each one the musicians we have on this year would sell out Hammersmith on their own, never mind the other secret guests)
A new series of Book Shambles has begun, starting with Alan Moore. Patreon supporters get a bonus and exclusive 65 minute Alan Moore Interview.