Written by Gülnaz Can
A nine-foot tall (approximately 275cm) woman stands in the middle of Fabrica Gallery in Brighton. She stands still, except for occasionally blinking. Her left hand is resting on her waist while her right hand is rising towards her gaze; she makes you turn your head to see what she might be looking at. Nothing too interesting, I see easels and chairs scattered around and some drawings hung on the walls.
Despite being slightly too tall, her body is almost ‘perfect’ with no hair expect her sufficiently voluminous and fashionably cut hair, conveniently on her head. Small hands, small feet, small belly, small belly button, smooth skin. The nipples are not dark enough to be censored by Instagram. Why am I talking about this woman in such a way, who is actually a comic-like, blinking sculpture? Because I observed it carefully while drawing it, as I was invited to do.
The invitation is for everyone. Fabrica Gallery’s beautiful interior space, which is a deconsecrated church from the early 19th century, turns into a life-drawing salon with the show, Life Model II by David Shrigley. The artist created this life model to invite everyone to participate in the process of art making with the promise of exhibiting their works on the walls of a gallery and hidden wish that everyone will feel better during or afterwards. Participation is free of charge and materials like easels, paper, pen and pencils are provided. Life Model II will be standing in the middle of Fabrica Gallery until 28 May and will be completely surrounded by drawings of her by hopefully many different people.
Brighton-based artist Shrigley is best known for his satirical drawings about ‘simple’ things; however, his artistic practice includes sculpture, large-scale installation, animation, painting, photography, books and music. His work Really Good, the ‘thumbs up’ sculpture, was commissioned to be installed on Trafalgar Square through March 2018. This is the second life model Shrigley has made. The first one, Life Model, was a giant male figure, blinking and urinating into a bucket. It was a part of the exhibition at Hayward Gallery, London, which resulted with his Turner Prize nomination in 2013. The somewhat follow up work, Life Model II, is shown in the UK for the first time after being exhibited in the US in 2016.
Life Model II is kicking off another wonderful and colourful Brighton Festival. Shrigley is the guest director of the festival this year, being the first visual artist to take on the role after Anish Kapoor. Shrigley says that Life Model II felt very much in the spirit of the festival, which encourages people to participate.
It feels like a certain mood about the festival in the city hangs in the air, but Shrigley stresses that there isn’t any message that the festival overall aims to give. “The festival is so disperse and diverse. If it had one unifying message, it would probably be at the expense of the festival itself. There are many many messages about many many different things. One of them definitely is how valuable the arts are to a city like Brighton and Hove, and to everywhere. It is very important for people’s health and wellbeing as well as social life.”
That one message the festival might give, ‘art as a tool for wellbeing’, is an important one for Shrigley. “For me, personally, making art is healthy. I witnessed how for people it has a positive impact on mental health and I was also involved in a project last year in an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing. It was highlighting the fact that the arts have a significant role to play in both mental and physical health and wellbeing for everybody. There is something mysterious and magical about music and art and writing, and the arts in general that really helps people.”
Talking about his works, Life Model and Life Model II, Shrigley says that it’s a good idea that a good artwork should function. However, he doesn’t necessarily expect his works to make people feel a certain way. “I made a faux self-help book, which only helps people because they laugh about it and is funny and interesting I suppose. But I don’t think that it necessarily is a big act of generosity on my part to make that book. You make art for other people as well as yourself, but you have to make it for yourself first. Not out of self-indulgence; I can’t expect anybody else to like my work if I don’t like it myself. Then if people respond to that that’s helpful, then that’s good. But I think the arts are positive; making art is positive. And it is on a small level making the world a better place.”
I gave it a try, sat by one of the easels and drew Life Model II. It was bad, didn’t make me feel great about my drawing skills, but made me appreciate that the multiple decisions about my career paths hadn’t included visual arts. I walked around and enjoyed looking at more talented people’s works on the walls. Life Model II was an absolutely fun experience. Besides his (and all of our) Life Model II, David Shrigley will present an Illustrated Talk and a Brighton Festival commission Problem in Brighton, described as a rock/pop pantomime, written and directed by the artist himself. The largest and most established annual curated multi-arts festival in England, Brighton Festival will take place 5-27 May and invite people to the city as well as the locals to be entertained, stimulated and to feel better.