Mark Leckey

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Mark Leckey (born 1964 in Birkenhead, Wirral) is a British artist, working with collage art, music and video. His found art and found footage pieces span several videos, most notably Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999) and Industrial Light and Magic (2008), for which he won the 2008 Turner Prize.

Life and career[edit]

Leckey was born in Birkenhead, near Liverpool, in 1964. In a 2008 interview in The Guardian, he described how he grew up in a working-class family and became a ‘casual’ in his youth.[1] He left school at 16 with one O Level, in art, and at 19 became obsessed with learning about ancient civilizations. In the Guardian interview he described himself as an autodidact, "That's why I use bigger words than I should. It's a classic sign."[1] Following a conversation with his stepfather he took his A Levels and went to an art college in Newcastle, but didn’t enjoy it: "It was the early 1990s, when critical theory had swept the nation. The place was full of hippies from down south who were reading Mervyn Peake and Tolkien, and suddenly they were made to read Barthes and Derrida. It was like a Maoist year zero. I became very suspicious of the merits of critical theory…”[1]

He was Film Studies professor at the Städelschule, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany

Art career[edit]

Mark Leckey's video work has as its subject the "tawdry but somehow romantic elegance of certain aspects of British culture,"[2] He likes the idea of letting “culture use you as an instrument.”[1] but adds that the pretentiousness that artists sometimes fall into is destructive to the artistic process: “What gets in the way is being too clever, or worrying about how something is going to function, or where it's going to be. When you start thinking of something as art, you're fucked: you're never going to advance."[1] Matthew Higgs has described his work as “possess[ing] a strange nonartlike quality, operating, as it does, on the knife's edge where art and life meet.”[3]

He exhibited alongside Damien Hirst in the 1990 New Contemporaries exhibition at the ICA but afterwards dropped from view, before making a "comeback" with Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore in 1999.[3]

In 2004, he participated in Manifesta 5, The European Biennial of Contemporary Art.[4] In 2006 he participated in the Tate Triennial[5] and his works are held in the collections of the Tate[6] and the Centre Pompidou.[7]

Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999)[edit]

The work, a video, is a compilation of found footage from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s underground music and dance scene in the U.K. A significant portion of the footage is taken from the 1977 Tony Palmer film The Wigan Casino made for Granada TV. It follows on the path of several previous appropriative art video artists and critics have remarked on its similarities with William S. Burroughs' technique of cut-ups,[8] a literary technique whereupon a text’s sentences or words are cut up and later randomly re-hashed into a new text. Through “found and original footage of discos and raves across Britain during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s” he “chronicle[s] the rites of passage experienced by successive generations of British (sub)urban youth”.[3]

Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore patches up several videos of young people dancing, singing and partying. It starts with the disco scene of the 1970s, touches upon the Northern soul of the late 1970s and early 1980s and climaxes with the rave scene of the 1990s. Mash-ups of a single soundtrack play during the whole video, giving a sense of unity and narrative to the video. However, there are moments of spoken text. At one point an animated element - a bird tattoo image - appears as if released from the hand of a dancer, then carried into the next shot finds its place on the arm of another of the film's nightclubbing subjects. Some dance moves are played on loop for a few seconds, some are played in slow motion. Writing about Leckey’s first few video pieces, which in addition to Fiorucci… include We Are (Untitled) (2000) and Parade (2003), the art critic Catherine Wood said that they “represent the human subject striving to spread itself out into a reduced dimensionality. His subjects dance, take drugs and dress up in their attempts to transcend the obstinate physicality of the body and disappear in abstract identification with the ecstasy of music, or the seamlessness of the image.”[9]

Sound System (2002)[edit]

Leckey has made ‘immersion’ pieces that offer aural and visual stimuli to the audience, such as his work Sound System (2002).

Made in 'Eaven (2004)[edit]

This video takes place in Leckey’s empty London studio. The camera rotates around Jeff KoonsRabbit (1986), which is placed in the center of the empty room. The video was transferred to 16 mm film and “is presented on a pedestal, like a sculpture.”[10] The shiny surface of the sculpture reflects the room clearly, but there is no reflection of the camera, after a while the viewer realizes that there was never a bunny in the studio: it is a computer-generated image of Koons' work.

Leckey is an admirer of Koons and has talked about what it is that attracts him to his work: "I like the idea of something that's almost inhuman in its perfection, like Bunny. It's as if it just appeared in the world, as if Koons just imagined it and it appeared. I always get too involved in the work."[1]

Drunken Bakers (2006)[edit]

In this video Leckey appropriates the Drunken Bakers comic strip from Viz Magazine, written by Barney Farmer and illustrated by Lee Healey.[11] Leckey filmed the comic strip, added close-ups and jump-cuts reworked into a stop-motion like video. Leckey has removed all the speech bubbles and replaced them with a dialogue read verbatim from the comic by himself and Steven Claydon, a member of his band JackTooJack. He also added aural effects with burping, vomiting, slurping, among others and fades to black between episodes.

The piece is projected on a white wall in a completely white room, a clock projected in the outside of the room moves between from three to four, before returning to three and repeating the cycle. The comic and video itself lack color, so the only two colors in the room are black and white. As some of his previous work, it deals “with hedonistic time-wasting as a means of (temporary) escape from the strictures of capitalism and adult responsibility.”[12] Roberta Smith noted “Mr. Leckey conveys an oppressive sense of the drinker's irresistible drive for oblivion, excavating the painful realities that often spur comedy.” In this act of appropriation, Leckey did not get official permission to use the material from Viz Magazine, “which, in a rare instance of corporate enlightenment, granted him permission retroactively.”[12]

Felix Gets Broadcast (2007)[edit]

In his work, Felix Gets Broadcast (2007), Leckey features one of the earlier figures of Felix The Cat.

Industrial Light and Magic (2008)[edit]

He won the 2008 Turner Prize for his exhibition Industrial Light and Magic. It included the piece Cinema-in-the-Round a video lecture where “the artist offers a compilation of his talks on film, television and video about the relationship between object and image.”[13]

Notes and references[edit]

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