david shrigley by judith findlay

david shrigley: map of the sewer transmission gallery

David Shrigley has made some sculptures. One of these is a fire in the corner of the room. Fire, for that is its name, is a tiny fire no higher than my ankle. Nonetheless it is a fire, a neat pyramid-shaped campfire with evenly stacked logs, and leaping but well-controlled red and orange flames. It is like a cartoon or a comic-book fire, or the imitation part of an electric living room heater, that part with flickering flames that are “real” and “living”. By the door, a fairly large bright green leaf with perfect veins and serrated edges lies fallen gracefully onto the floor next to the wall. It tip curls up against the skirting board. It’s shaped like a bay leaf. It’s a New Leaf, though having fallen, it will soon be old, and perhaps anyway tomorrow it may be forgotten, dead or trodden on. Not far from New Leaf is a hole cut in the middle of the floor. At least four floors are missing and you can see the basement. A tall hurdle stands in the gap. Its legs reach down to the ground below and its black and white crossbar grazes the ceiling. Maimed and dead athletes lie in the cellar, bleeding and killed in an impossible task. Near to Hurdle is something in the space between David Shrigley’s fridge and cooker. Space Between Fridge and Cooker is a brightly colored substance, stuff squeezed together in a low, thin line. Usually Space Between fridge and Cooker lives in David Shrigley’s kitchen with him and his flatmate, but for now it sits on a plinth. It has many eyes, and probably has hands, legs, feet, and mouths, thoughts, needs and desires too. There’s Dog Toy, a green hairy glove, or a hand that has been chewed, and a type of souvenir or somewhere called south coast. I think South Coast is a turd, a tidy, substantial pile, a sample collected and swirled carefully on a clean white shelf. Novelty Bottle Opener is a small stocky white dog, a pug or bulldog, standing blind, deaf, dumb, decapitated. It has a beer bottle in place of its head.

David Shrigley has also taken some photographs. There’s one of a homemade land mine in a children’s playground set conveniently by some swings and a roundabout. There’s another one of a head, or a mask, mounted on a pole, displayed in the street near his home.

David Shrigley’s sculptures and photographs are ordinary and very funny, and being so ordinary and funny is what makes them, in a way, so extraordinary, so dangerous. For fun and humor doesn’t tell of grand acts, people, and objects, but of lowly and absurd ones. It suggests faults and weakness. So in a way laughter can be of value in helping us to see things we recognize, differently. Its a great learning tool. It’s a good catharsis. He uses witty, ridiculous metaphors, wry asides and comments, a personal, commonsense philosophy, irony, and known signs in unexpected places and positions. He expresses a kind of perfect, well-made, diligently thought out violence, soiling and deformation, which is quietly and gently done. David Shrigley turns things around and tells them differently from normal, as if normality isn’t telling the truth. he makes us look at things again, close up. He raises laughter and makes it into art.

And the thing about laughter is that it can be a way of putting a finger up to the “natural order” of things. That is its threat, and that is its value. If you can laugh about something, joke about it, satirize it, it doesn’t really worry you, you don’t really fear it; laughter is freedom. Humor is hope with a smile. David Shrigley considers rules, boundaries, and margins. He can sense other sides of these and think about what is thought normal and good and beautiful, and strange and evil and ugly. David Shrigley isn’t just funny, he’s funny and he asks questions. So he also senses the opposite of humor, which I suppose is tragedy. I can identify with him and sense his theater (the tragedy of his humor, the humor of his tragedy), I can look at his sculptures, and I can smile.Judith Findlay