Every couple of years you read in a press report that a cleaner mistook a work of art for garbage and threw it away. My personal favourite example of this cyclical news story is the Tate cleaner who in 2004 chucked away a bag of rubbish that was part of a Gustav Metzger piece on show in the Art & The 60s exhibition. The damaged rubbish bag was retrieved by the gallery.
Something similar happened to me this morning. I arrived at Space Studios in Hackney to continue installing my solo show there and found most things as I’d left them – including a hat I’d forgotten to take home the night before. Among the art selected for my Space mini-retrospective is the version of Shredded Book I’d previously shown at the nearby FormContent gallery in 2010. To get Shredded Book to Space, I’d taken the shreddings out of the shredder and put them in a plastic bag. This enabled me to carry the top part of the shredder separately from the bucket that has contained the shreddings, and made it possible to cycle to the gallery by balancing these items (which I’d placed in various bags) on the handlebars on my bike.
This morning the two parts of the shredder where were I’d left them yesterday, but the shreddings that I hadn’t got around to putting back in the machine had disappeared! Looking about I found the shreddings in a corridor with various other bags of rubbish. I was elated by some unknown cleaner’s critique of Shredded Book – whoever dumped my art in the corridor literally considered it to be rubbish! Having found the shreddings, I placed them back inside the shredder, and I guess they’ll be safe there now that the work has been fully reassembled and restored.
Having your art work not just described as rubbish, but mistaken for garbage, is an aesthetic rite of passage. It proves you’ve really made it as a contemporary artist and that you are capable of alchemising what most people would consider to be rubbish into aesthetic gold! The fact that this has finally happened to me means way more than having had the show I’m currently installing in Hackney positively reviewed by the New York Times (when it was on at White Columns in the USA last year)! Is my work rubbish or do I transmute garbage into the living embodiment of everything that is most noble about the human spirit? Clearly I’m going to claim the latter is the case. And whether you do or don’t believe me you’ll still have to come to Space to discover the truth about this for yourself!
Again, A Time Machine – a Stewart Home mini-retrospective – is at SPACE, 129-131 Mare Street, London E8 3RH from 6 April until 20 May 2012. Gallery Hours: Mon-Fri 10am –5pm – Sat/Sun Noon- 6pm. And it’s free to get in!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!