Tom Dale in conversation with Brian Dillon: Wednesday 14 September, 6.30pm
For his inaugural exhibition with Poppy Sebire, Tom Dale presents a sculptural series of stunt ramps gone horribly wrong. Setting forth recurring themes in Dale’s work, the distorted ramps are at once loaded cultural signifiers and restrained objects of formal contemplation.
For Dale the ramps project a leap of faith, but where this blind optimism is headed is unknown. Some are turned on end, driven into the ground or twisted like ribbon, leading to the most devastating of trajectories: they take the daredevil’s bravado to its absurdly logical conclusion. The suspension of belief demanded by this directionless excess marks a point of fascination for the artist, as do the analogous political ideologies in the name of which such stunts are regularly performed. Evel Knievel has previously formed a focus in Dale’s work. The iconic American stuntman was both a philandering ex-criminal with an instinct for self-aggrandisement and a national hero, the living embodiment of patriotism’s paradoxical blend of recklessness and order. Sculptures titled after sites of Knievel’s historic stunts introduce a sober typology to the audacity of the endeavours documented.
At the same time Dale’s explorations of form reveal the ramps as symbols of patriotism itself, detached from any distinct national signification. It is this dualism of disaster and universality that makes these sculptures simultaneously absurd and beautiful, fired-up and ice-cold, politicised and infinitely expansive. The chaotic crisscrossing of their frames frequently overwhelms the ramps’ streamlined surfaces. With their large scale they are daunting interventions in the gallery, referencing the monumental language of sculpture. Dale specifically invokes Russian Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin’s planned Monument to the Third International, with its twisting, cylindrical and ultimately unrealisable forms. As with the popular culture of patriotism, the allusion points to both the heroic purity and preposterous aspirations of modernism.
Dale’s video work effects a related dialectic, infusing aggressive machismo – edited footage of Knievel or the opening ceremonies of the Olympics – with placid reflection – one film features a rippling set of interior drapes, which all but block out a distant cityscape. Shot Through shows a pristine new drum kit being blown to pieces by a hunting rifle in an otherwise tranquil forest setting. What begins as light-hearted, rock-and-roll fun quickly degrades into undue, gratuitous destruction, as we witness the hunted object’s merciless annihilation. The gravitas of the drum kit’s perforated body resonates with the visceral quality of the ramp sculptures. Both provoke an immediate physical impact that in turn demands a series of ideological and existential questions.
Tom Dale was born in Kendal UK in 1974. Solo exhibitions have included IFC Center, New York (2009); Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw (2008); Plymouth Arts Centre (2008); Union Gallery, London (2006-7); Collective Gallery, Edinburgh (2002) and Zacheta Gallery, Warsaw (2000). Dale has participated in recent group exhibitions including The Art of the Pop Video, Museum of Applied Arts Cologne (2011); Dawnbreakers, John Hansard Gallery, Southampton (2010); Videonale 12, Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow/Kunstmuseum, Bonn (2010/2009); Deceitful Moon, Hayward Gallery, London (2009) and Reckless Behavior, Getty Museum, LA (2006). His work is featured in the Hayward’s upcoming touring exhibition Outrageous Fortune. Dale holds an MA from Goldsmiths and is currently undertaking doctoral research at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. Tom Dale: Towards an Absolute was published by Plymouth Arts Centre in 2009.