The Bruce Lacey Experience sounds like a musical act, not a retrospective? Sure, whatever, outta sight. Maybe it is, man, and maybe it isn't.
This is the junk-made clatter of the grooviest instruments in life's orchestra, played by some octogenarian cat for the benefit of an uncertain deity. Maybe, thinking on it, the sense of ritual act is misdirection: the audience of the Experience is not an unknown God, but an inner child. As a cynic, I found myself caught unawares by such wacko, English hullabaloo: this batty, wire-haired loony, with his archives and his hemp-cloth clothes, is a relic from a time in which it was easier to believe in joy, to believe in the great potential lying dormant in the far-out yonder. The line between artist and hoarder is changeable: crackpot rubbish and pointless ephemera find new purpose, or pile and rot. In vitrines, we find Lacey's childhood toys, his notes, his earliest drawings, his papers. Who but an artisan or a madman would keep his life in storage thus? His theory is that the way of the artist is to maintain his first childhood long enough to delay real life, and to delay the onset of the miserable second. Sacraments are developed, praising life and the universe in general. Rockets are fired, and suns are worshipped -- it's the usual sixties thing of the everloving right-on brotherhood, but with an all-pervasive air of irreverence and goonish madness. Cynicism’s vastly overrated anyway, dotchafink? I can’t say that it’s brought me even the smallest degree of the wonder that Bruce Lacey seems to see in the world. I must say, I am glad that he is willing to share it with me, the caviler.
That isn’t to say that the work is without its darker moments, or its dirtiness. Many of his automata are bitter, bullish archetypes -- teeth are a common motif in these semi-human mechanoids, a readymade analogy for the seeds of satire under the sunchild, like Eliot's skull beneath the skin. Press a button, and the Politician blows hot air out of a Jaggerish mouth (if only politics were this easy! Though doubtless, on closer inspection, they are). The Womaniser's rubber hands, one assumes, are made to caress its udders; he's largely immobile now, the slender metal legs hanging down like a stocking’d girl's. Looking at the thing, I remembered a series of photographs I'd seen which recorded an autoerotic fatality in a middle-aged transvestite: kinkiness is seen by Europe, apparently, as an English vice (call it Stephen Milligan syndrome -- "take one orange, and call me in the morning"), the same way that eccentricity is a totem of Anglo-Saxon glory. The leg of another mechanical figure swings up and down, like a pissing dog's, and the head is an orange -- bite down, ol' Milligan! -- with a Philip Larkin face (the morning that I saw the show, a journalist in the American press had described our Olympic opening show as “breathtaking, brash and brilliantly bonkers.” I’ll leave you to make your own connections – the dots are there to be joined with ease).
Later, as I returned to the train, I found myself humming along to The 59th Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy). "Life I love you, all is groovy"? Sure, whatever, outta sight. Maybe it is, man, and maybe it isn't: I still couldn't stop myself grinning dumbly. It’s bona fide British Rubbish – bury me in it once I’m dead.
(All Images: Bruce Lacey, Installation views; Courtesy of the artist/ photo by Angus Mill Photography.)