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'Mark Leckey: O'Magic Power Of Bleakness' Review - Tate Britain

Mark Leckey - Dream English Kid, 1964 – 1999 AD 2015, production still, courtesy of the artist. Photo: Mark Blower


24 September 2019 – 5 January 2020

Admission - £13

Concessions - £12

Tate Collective - £5


Dozens of us are sat in a dark room, as erratic noises play from the speakers and screens surrounding us. We stand in the underway of life-size replica of a M53 bridge in Wirral. The space directs us towards two main screens, where three of Mark Leckey's works are shown in a 55 minute-long loop. On show is his newest audio-visual piece Under Under In (2019), alongside two of his seminal works: Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1990) and Dream English Kid, 1964 – 1999 AD (2015)—these begin every hour, on the hour.

These videos create a fantastical atmosphere: at one point, we’re thrust into a twisting and twirling vortex—like 2001: A Space Odyssey—but then this changes to an almost matrix-like plane—black with a green grid. Then, what seems like an instant later, we’re watching raves, footage of carnival streets, and liquid splashing from a trouser leg onto a shoe. Videos are spliced, thrown together in a way which is both alienating and bewildering. Moments of intensity are then contrasted with eerie music or distorted childlike chanting. Despite the piece being described by the Tate as an "audio play”, there’s no cohesive line of action, therefore “sound bath” may be a better descriptor. The repetition is dizzying, resulting in a true lack of cohesion.

This exhibition is an excellent example of truly experiencing installation art, and being able to see its potential in the sensations certain mediums can provoke. The space is all-encompassing, occasionally giving way to involuntary bodily reactions. It’s momentarily awe-inspiring, but the fact of it is, it is only momentary, and I’m not sold. I’m angry even; I can’t imagine the cost of installing this replica bridge, but what I can imagine is all the better ways that that money could have been spent.

I suppose I'm disappointed because the pieces are obtuse and inaccessible. I feel the Tate, as one of the most recognisable names in the UK art scene, has some responsibility to encourage those who are less inclined to art, or who do find it inaccessible, to want to experience and explore it. Leckey’s piece, in my eyes, does the complete opposite—it’s so fragmented that trying to piece it together is just exhausting.

Throughout my entire experience of the piece, I told myself I didn’t want to be flippant, since Leckey is hugely celebrated; I told myself I must have been missing something. This is an unquestionably personal piece—the bridge is one Leckey frequented in his youth. His exploration of nostalgia, memory and the retrospective experience is constructed warmly, but it is simply not relatable enough. The huge aesthetic power of the installation demands attention—this, in turn, demands apt justification, and I couldn’t find it.

Edited by Alexia McDonald, Digital Editor

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