Installing 'The Artist' in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The Artist

David Shrigley’s Lose Your Mind is a British Council Touring Exhibition. In this interview, curator Katrina Schwarz and International Touring Manager Harriet Cooper talk about what was involved in the installation process for Lose Your Mind.

How were the works selected for the exhibition?

Katrina: Part of the rationale for choosing works was to be representative of all areas of David Shrigley's work, including sculpture, installation, drawing and film.

We of course have to think about the fact that this is an exhibition that will move from country to country, from museum to museum, that will be shown in a variety of still-to-be-determined gallery spaces.

One determining factor for the choice of works was looking for things that had flexible exhibition formats.

For instance, Boots, 2007 (ten pairs of ceramic boots), is displayed on plinths in the current installation of the exhibition in Mexico, but in the past it's been presented on a low wall or a staircase.

The fact that these works have flexible exhibition formats enables us to have a positive and mutual relationship with a gallery, which means it doesn't just become a receiving gallery, but a true partner.

How involved was David in the installation process?

Harriet: As David is, of course, a living artist and an artist with whom the British Council enjoys a very good relationship, it was fantastic that he was able to commit so much time to work with us on the first install of Lose Your Mind in Mexico.

Being able to glean so much information from him at an early stage about how he wants to present the work throughout the tour is incredibly useful. It means that we are able to manage the install with his wishes in mind for future showings.

It’s also important for the artists we work with to visit the places their work is touring to. It gives us an opportunity to take an artist to a new cultural context so they can see how their work fits and is received. They can take inspiration from that and have an opportunity to make new contacts while they're there.

Listen to Katrina's audio tour of the exhibition in Guadalajara, Mexico:

David Shrigley draws the exhibition plan on the wall of the gallery at the Instituto Cultural Cabañas, Guadalajara, Mexico.
David Shrigley draws the exhibition plan on the wall of the gallery at the Instituto Cultural Cabañas, Guadalajara, Mexico. ©

David Shrigley. Photo by British Council.

Installing Eggs, 2011 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Installing Eggs, 2011 in Guadalajara, Mexico.  ©

David Shrigley.

Text is quite central to a lot of David Shrigley’s work, as well as humour. How do you approach the translation – in every sense of the word – for international audiences of Shrigley's work?

Katrina: A major part of the exhibition - and perhaps the work David Shrigley is most famous for - are his drawings, many of which involve text. We got very lucky with our first venue, starting in Mexico and moving on in Latin America, in that there already existed a Spanish language version of one of David's publications.

That enabled us to include, for the first time, Spanish-language translations of David’s drawings as part of the work.

When choosing the animations, sculptures and drawings for the exhibition, we were also able to choose works in which text doesn't feature too much, to make sure we can reach the largest possible international audience.

Harriet: Having said that, a lot of the visitors who come to our exhibitions have a grasp of English, whether it's written or spoken. In Mexico, although we had the Spanish language drawings, people understood the English drawings. Often, the simplicity, humour and directness of David's work actually speaks as much as the text does.

What are the challenges involved in touring this particular exhibition?

Harriet: Whilst the works are very flexible, the exhibition includes a range of different mediums and this presents challenges in terms of conservation. We were working with taxidermy, with unframed drawings that are very susceptible to environmental changes, as well as with delicate clay pieces.

Katrina: There's a work called Insects, which brings together more than 400 individual components. Each one of those has been photographed, tagged, and is allotted a certain place in its travel case. To be installed, they have to be taken out, checked, have the tag removed, be individually placed, photographed and documented. So it's quite a process.

What was your experience of working with David Shrigley?

Katrina: He is very generous with his time, energy and ideas. He’s laid-back, but there’s also a deep care for his work. He’s relaxed but vigilant.

At times, during the installation, when David was watching us as we were working, it seemed that he was thinking, 'Oh gosh, they're just scraps of metal. Why are you bothering with that?' But at the end of the day, I know he appreciates all the care we take.

The imaginative presentation of his work is also really important to him, and he contributed a lot to this in the install process, thinking of really imaginative solutions to showing the work in different, sometimes difficult spaces.

Which of the works in Lose Your Mind is your favourite?

Katrina: I love the piece called The Artist. It's just hilarious, like David's drawings, which, no matter how many times I look at them, continue to put a smile on my face.

'The Artist' is a robot, this strange thing, wearing a cheap wig with pens up its nose with which it zooms across and makes drawings on a piece of paper. I just think it's very, very funny.

Harriet: The Artist gets a very good reaction. As soon as you get him out of the box, everyone's like, 'Whoa. Who's this guy?' Everyone wants to see what he's going to do.

For me, Death Gate worked incredibly well. It was a work that David had proposed based on what he'd seen from the first venue and the space, because it had a lot of doorways.

It's a gate that separates two of the galleries with the word 'death' written across it. I think that's been a really nice and unusual addition.

Why do you think David Shrigley's work lends itself to international touring?

Harriet: It has an innate translatability because he works a lot with quite common objects. Often, they're oversized and they're humorous. He works with imagery, objects and ideas that are quite day-to-day.

I think that stems from his own practice of drawing on a daily basis around quirky, unusual, but also familiar things. I also think it helps that there's nothing too complicated in it. You can really make your own stories about his work.

Katrina: One of our collaborators in Mexico, Ruben Mendez, who was the museographer at the gallery there, was standing in front of the wall of drawings one day during the install and he said, 'I think this David, I think he is a philosopher, a deep, moral philosopher.'

There’s evidently the element of the clown, but I think – whether it's in the playfulness with scale or just the darkness of his humour – there is also a philosophy, a moral position that comes through in David’s work. There are things to say about death and life. There's a kind of depth there, which is universal.