MAstars 2014: Chris Graham, MA Fine Art

MAstars 2014: Chris Graham, MA Fine Art Chris Graham, (Un- tit- led): Installation 1, 2014. Installation with various materials*. 9m x 10m x 6m. Credit: Augustinas Gus Naslenas

David Gilbert selects Chris Graham from Sheffield Hallam University for MAstars

There is much radical dissent in the work at the SHU MA show, especially from Chris Graham. His installation is dense and complex, hidden within a web-like mass of videotape, and starkly monochromatic. Here it is, in black and white.

The subject matter is the Iraq war, and its ideological basis. The metaphors are clear and forceful: the hooded figure of a detainee at Abu Ghraib is literally made iconic, cast as an award statuette; ‘Fallujah Baby’ is a blackened infant in half an oil drum, deformed in the womb by depleted uranium; a fatted calf, titled ‘Fuck the Middle East’ is carved up like a butcher’s carcass; the ‘Eat Kate Moss’ poster critiques the objectification and commodification of women. No institution is spared here; ‘The Seat of Criticality – Broken on Top of the Culture Industry’ is an old school chair precariously balanced on a broken pallet. Although I don’t physically sit on it, figuratively speaking I can’t help feeling I should. All institutional power needs to be questioned, and Chris Graham uses his art practice as the means to do so.

Chris Graham Untitled Installation 2

Chris Graham, (Un- tit- led): Installation 1, 2014. Installation with various materials*. 9m x 10m x 6m. Credit: Augustinas Gus Naslenas

Graham’s critique is not a blunt weapon - indeed the work is subtle and nuanced, even humorous. ‘The Aesthetics of Conflict’ ingeniously uses a music-box mechanism, translating UK Military, US Military and civilian death statistics, using a punched paper spool, into a melody, which crescendos as the casualties increase. Chris plays it for me, and the jarring effect of representing the loss of human life in the form of a pretty tune is startling.

This is no inchoate outburst: Graham’s critique is informed and politically literate - his ‘Fragmented Negative Attack Methodology’ graphic shows his sophisticated synthesis of aesthetics and politics in a cool diagrammatic form.

I have always felt the need to be moved in order to truly love a work of art, and Graham ably does this with his Sturm und Drang. When we speak, ‘authenticity’ is a term that comes up, and Graham has it in abundance. It is heartening to see an artist make work of real power tackling important issues in the world in an era of self-referential artworld in-jokes … even if he does leave me feeling uncomfortably like an Establishment apologist.

Chris Graham Untitled Installation 3

Chris Graham, (Un- tit- led): Installation 1, 2014. Installation with various materials*. 9m x 10m x 6m. Credit: Augustinas Gus Naslenas and Chris Graham

Selected by David Gilbert
Published August, 2014

*Installation includes: 'The Aesthetics of Conflict', 20 note, 1 and a half octave music box, playing US and UK military deaths and Iraqi civilian deaths from 2003- 2010 attached to 'Downtown Fallujah', spray painted teak coffee table. 'Eat Kate Moss', 5 colour, framed screen print with 'Twinkle twinkle little star' music box attached. 'The failed consumer', liberated shopping trolley, industrial powder coat paint finish and 20kg of LDPE (Low Density Poly Ethylene). 'Fuck the Middle East' (Donkey), cardboard, expanding foam, fibreglass resin, paint and silicone rubber anus (masturbation cup). 'The Seat of Criticality' found broken school chair on top of a wooden industrial pallet, masking tape. 'Fallujah Baby' half a found oil drum, filled with ceramic baby parts with adapted, 'deformed' new born doll on top of rope light. 'The Lindy Englund', Abu Ghraib Top Torturer awards (2 cast bronze statuettes for Tony Blair and George Bush). 'Prayer mat/ Riot shield', carboard, insulation tape with 2000 year old Kuffic text. 'British Spring' petrol bomb, glass 'Arabic' Coca Cola bottle, polyester resin, Jay cloth. 'Reconfiguring Capitalism' anagram cardboard letters. 'Gape and Pout', 1970's hard core pornography/ celebrity magazine collage. 'Coal/ Diamond', cardboard and insulation tape. 'Iraqi oil fields rug', cardboard, paint and insulation tape. VHS tapes (The Matrix, Full Metal Jacket, Animal Farm (George Orwell animation), Animal Farm (pornography)). Brown paper takeaway bags, waste/ found cardboard, insulation/ vinyl/ gaffa/ packing tapes, paint ('Capitalism', anagrams painted on wall, 'Imagine if the Boko Haram girls were white' painted on wall, not pictured).  

About David Gilbert

David Gilbert is an experienced freelance contemporary art curator, arts consultant, project manager and arts educator. He has worked for many years in the museum & gallery and education sectors, with a particular interest in contemporary visual arts. 

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