Contemporary Art

David Shrigley Brings His Dark Humour to DESTE Foundation

By Gareth Harris

The exterior of DESTE Foundation Project Space, Slaughterhouse; installation view of Urs Fischer's exhibition Yes, 2013, Photo: Spyros Staveris

The UK artist David Shrigley is moving in a new direction. The Brighton-based conceptual artist, known for his darkly humorous, intelligent drawings dealing with the absurdities of humanity, has made his first live-action film. The new work, which features a pack of goats at play, is on show on the Greek island of Hydra in the Slaughterhouse, a project space run by the Athens-based DESTE Foundation.

The 14-minute film draws on the gruesome history of the site. “We made the piece in response to the space,” the artist says. “Nobody has really addressed that it was once a slaughterhouse. It is very small with a metal beam at chest height covered in rusty hooks. It is dark and dingy, and does not lend itself to a gallery-style presentation.” Shrigley has also just turned vegetarian, adding another peculiar twist to the installation.

David Shrigley, "There will be a great crescendo of goats," says Shrigley of his show at Slaughterhouse, © David Shrigley

The goats themselves, filmed at farms in Malta and Scotland, intrigue Shrigley. “I wanted to make a funny film [about the animals] because I’d watched lots of films about goats on YouTube,” he says, pointing out that the internet inspires his art. “There is a certain humanity to the piece; it is horrifying and laughable at the same time. If you change the context, would it still be funny?”
Music also plays a big part in the presentation. Three musicians using electric guitars created by Shrigley will play on the roof of the building, performing a piece of music based on goat sounds. “With the guitar piece, there will be a great crescendo of goats,” Shrigley says. Does working in these new media mean that he is broadening his practice? “You learn something new from every project. The goat film is an experiment. I’m more interested in making drawings and objects. But on Hydra, it will all be art,” he says.

Artist David Shrigley, Courtesy of the Stephen Friedman Gallery, Photo: Craig Gibson

Shrigley, who studied at the Glasgow School of Art, has reached a new level of art-world fame in recent years with projects such as Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth sculpture Really Good – a seven-metre-high black bronze thumbs-up – and his nomination for the Turner Prize in 2013. A series of his works emblazoned with his own imagined news headlines – eye-catching texts include “Bathroom light left on again” – are on show in the 250th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Asked if the key to his success is his democratic humour – the feeling that we’re all in on the joke – he says: “The works are meant to be funny, so in that way, everyone is involved. If my main task was just to make people laugh, then I’d be a comedian. You have to make the work for yourself.”

Gallery View of the 250th Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London (12 June - 19 August, 2018), showing Untitled by David Shrigley, © Royal Academy of Arts, Photo: David Parry

His next project, after a yoga holiday break, is in an even more surreal vein. “I’m making some giant swans for a show at the Spritmuseum [located on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm] which will inflate and deflate,” he says. But his focus for now is on the goats. “They really do have personalities,” he says. “But they do very, very strange things.”

David Shrigley: Laughterhouse, DESTE Foundation Project Space, Slaughterhouse, Hydra, Greece, 19 June – 30 September

David Shrigley – Exhibition of Giant Inflatable Swan-things, Spritmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden, 27 September – 31 March 2019

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