This month, take a trip beyond the boundaries of perception and witness The Everyday and Extraordinary – the new exhibition at Birmingham Art Gallery.
Bringing together an impressive collection of modern and contemporary artworks that use everyday and recognisable items, the exhibition guides you through the various artists’ processes of repurposing and finding alternative ways of viewing these found objects.
Found object art goes all the way back to the beginning of the 20th Century, when artists such as Marcel Duchamp were experimenting and testing the boundaries of what may be considered to be art. His ‘ready-mades’ series infamously included Fountain – essentially an upturned urinal.
On entry to The Everyday and Extraordinary exhibition, you’re immediately confronted with what is perhaps a considerable nod to Duchamp’s use of the utilitarian. ‘Pink Pimp Mix’ (2006) by David Batchelor uses a found concrete mixer which he has edged with glowing pink neon lights, enhancing but not disguising its form.
Staying with utilitarian objects, Jean-Luc Vilmouth’s 1981 piece ‘Five Heads’ uses a bucket, scoop, jug, plasterer’s float and a dustpan, into which he a has cut eye-holes which elevates the objects, making them resemble masks, each with a different character and enabling the viewer to see life in once inanimate tools.
Chris Plowman’s 1977 work ‘Metropolis II’ uses a similar process, although in a photo-etching. What at first glance appears to be a familiar cityscape picture, on closer inspection uses various household items such as a cheese grater and a salt cellar as representations of buildings.
Many of the pieces have a haunting surrealism, such as ‘Crow and Carrion’ by Bill Woodrow which uses umbrellas to depict a crow which seems to have metamorphosed from the object as it pecks disturbingly at a human arm, also crafted from an old umbrella.
Not all of the materials used in the exhibits are necessarily recognisable objects, rather found fragments of rubbish as in ‘New Stones – Newton’s Tones’ by Tony Cragg. Cragg collected various pieces of waste plastic in Germany and laid them out in a rectangular formation and according to their colour in the sequence of Newton’s spectrum, making for an impressive rainbow made from discarded material.
It is probably fair to say that, just as is Duchamp’s time, the exhibits on show here may represent a challenge to many casual art gallery patrons. But that may be all the more reason to visit, especially when the art on show is such a celebration of the physical material in an increasingly digitalised world.