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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, erratic noises play from speakers and screens that surround us. We are below a life size replica of a M53 bridge in Wirral. The space directs us towards two main screens where three of his works are shown in a 55 minute long loop. On show is his newest audio-visual piece ‘Under Under In’ (2019) alongside two of Leckey’s 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 - 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 splash from a trouser leg onto a shoe. Videos are spliced, thrown together in a way that is alienating and bewildering and moments of intensity are then contrasted with eerie music or distorted childhood chant. Described by the Tate as “an audio play”, I would reject even that - there’s no cohesive line of action, “sound bath” may be a better phrase. The repetition is dizzying - there’s a true lack of cohesion.

For the experience of installation art, to see its potential – the sensations certain mediums can provoke - it’s an excellent example. The space is all-encompassing; occasionally giving way to an involuntary bodily reaction. It’s momentarily awe-inspiring, but the fact of it is, it is only momentarily. 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 used.

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, Leckey is hugely celebrated: I must be 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 effort into, and aesthetic power of, the installation demands attention – this, in turn, demands apt justification, and I couldn’t find it.

I’m sure the exhibition wasn’t as effective as Tate Britain supposed it would be. I feel a bit cheated, it’s a disorientating mess. I appealed to myself, what was good about it? It’s a beautiful expression of the fragments that compose human experience and it’s definitely a meditative space.


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