by Kara Q. Smith
Next to a taxidermy rat lying on the floor of the gallery is David Shrigley’s animation, Switch, 2007. Projected onto the wall in roughly a single square foot. In it, a finger, composed simply with black lines in the artist's emblematically elemental linework, pushes a light switch repeatedly, on-off, on-off, on-off. Click-click, click-click.
Each time “off” comes into the rotation, the projection disappears, it clicks off. After a series of on-off’s the finger pulls back for a second. Will it go back for more? It wiggles a bit and then, the animation loops again. Chuckle.
In the broader sense of the exhibition, chuckling overkill might be seen as Shrigley’s modus operandi, like the five years of toe nail clippings presented in a glass bowl, the multiple porcelain eggs perched precariously along the tops of built walls in the gallery. How many times can one look up and actually think the egg might fall? The repetition/overkill of Shrigley’s uncomfortable gags and disorienting one-liners lead to us, with another uncomfortable chuckle, to understanding that the punchline isn’t coming. Searching for meaning in Shrigley resembles the existential dilemma attached to a sibling’s hovering finger and the mantra, “I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you.”
David Shrigley, Pumpkin, 2007; Courtesy the Artist and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
My favorite room in the exhibition contained a selection of photographs Shrigley took in the ‘90s as well as an animation, a black dot on the wall, some pieces hung very low to the ground, the toenails, a taxidermy squirrel holding its own head in its hands and a museum-like installation of sculptural objects that each made very little sense but were very fun to look at. Pumpkin, 1998, is a color snapshot of a Barbie doll wearing a real pumpkin and sitting on a bench. Other photographs depict landscapes where one of the objects has something cleverly Shrigleyesque scrawled on it. The charm is to imagine walking through the park and discovering pumpkin Barbie, and go about your day wondering what likely terrible, if not certainly perverse story is behind her fate.
The exhibition comes full circle for the viewer in the entrance corridor through which all must also exit. Here, the walls are affixed, nearly floor to ceiling, with posters containing oodles of Shrigley’s drawings. Example: a clumsy drawing of a rhino, caption reads, “Rhino looks content but isn’t.” Again, chuckle.
David Shrigley, Brain Activity, 2012; installation view; Courtesy of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts / Photo: Kara Q. Smith.
Some posters breach commentary, like the drawing of an unidentifiable bird with the text “I’m flying to London to shit on the government,” but ultimately the messaging varies, if it even clearly exists. While obviously hand drawn, I wonder if the effect would be any different if Shrigley just redrew his faux-naif one-panels right on the wall. There is something about the plastered look of the posters, where corners overlap, that comes off as too self-consciously reckless. The multitude of gemmy, awkward bon-mots leaves one a shade overwhelmed. They run together in the end like the New Yorker cartoons, inevitably and most tellingly, leaving one unable to remember any of them at all.
—Kara Q. Smith
(Image on top: David Shrigley, Brain Activity, 2012, installation view; Courtesy of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts / Photo: Kara Q. Smith.)