Open Frequency 2011: Andy Holden selected by Simon Morrissey

Open Frequency 2011: Andy Holden selected by Simon Morrissey Andy Holden, Pyramid Piece, 2008. Knitted yarn, foam, steel support. 6 x 4 x 3 m. Credit: Andy Holden and WORKS|PROJECTS

Director of WORKS|PROJECTS, Bristol, Simon Morrissey profiles Bedfordshire-based artist, Andy Holden

Andy Holden’s works are material stories: objects as narratives, physical things that like to tell tales. Polymorphic in nature, Holden’s practice encompasses a diverse creative output, from monumental outdoor sculpture to lectures on birdlife to his band The Grubby Mitts, yet it is tied together by a fascination with how we establish our place in the world through the things that surround us, and how we imbue these things with meaning, through both mental and physical manipulation.

Holden’s ‘Pyramid Piece’ (2008) exemplifies the fusion of narrative and object that defines his work. Based on a small lump of rock which the artist took from the pyramid of Cheops at Giza, Egypt, whilst on holiday with his father as a teenager, the ‘Pyramid Piece’ represents the snowballing of a seemingly insignificant act into a disproportionately monumental sculptural icon, through the operation of the guilt that grew in the artist’s mind after Holden’s father admonished him for his act of theft.

Thirteen years after he stole the rock Holden attempted to try to return it to the place on the pyramid from which he took it. The film of this peculiar pilgrimage - a shaky amateur video shot by a man whom Holden befriended in a cafe and persuaded to help record his task - documents the artist wandering over the face of the pyramid, engaged in what was, inevitably, an impossible task. On his return, Holden enlisted a team of knitters to help him create a massively-enlarged replica of the rock, 100 times its actual size, the surface of which would be wholly constructed from knitting composed to mimic the colour variations of the original rock. At once monumental and domestic, the work is as breathtaking in its intricately-crafted labour as it is absurd in conception.

The narrative origin and physical manifestation of works such as the ‘Pyramid Piece’ or the presence of his father, ornithologist Peter Holden, in the series of lectures on birdlife Holden has presented in recent years, suggest how the aesthetic concerns of Holden’s work owe as much of a debt to the cultural interests of his upbringing in suburban Bedfordshire as they do to the legacy of artists who exert a strong pull on him. The knitted surface of the ‘Pyramid Piece’, the melted 78 rpm records decorated with collaged images from Peanuts cartoons that form the series ‘Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will’ – the hobby activities of Holden’s parents’ generation have been developed into the material foundation of his sculptural vocabulary.

Andy Holden Desert Project

Andy Holden, Desert Project (Or Hard On in the Desert), 2009. Installation view. Credit: Andy Holden and WORKS|PROJECTS

The transformative marriage of these domestic influences with a tapestry of artistic and narrative inspiration was explored in Desert Project (2009), in which Holden created a dense amalgam of fabricated souvenirs from a road trip through California, inspired by advice from the late Jason Rhoades to spend some time in the desert to reassess his idea of scale. In a display reminiscent of a small-town American museum built by a British amateur handyman, Holden staged a tableau in which all the constituent parts - bronze casts of plastic soft drinks lids and straws, enlarged ceramic pistachio nuts, paintings of casino carpets, plaster slices that look like the candy-coloured strata of Arizona rock faces – described the crucible of influence, how Holden’s project is uniquely idiosyncratic yet built upon the work of others.

Desert Project was Bedfordshire meets California, Holden after Hunter S. Thompson, after Ed Ruscha, after Roadrunner, after Tom Waits, after Charles M. Schulz, after Claus Oldenburg. Like all of Holden’s work, it was a fragmented yet richly-textured collision of ideas, references and forms. New stories retold with second-hand words.

Simon Morrissey, February 2011

Artist's biography

Andy Holden (b. 1982, Bedford, UK) graduated from BA Fine Art at Goldsmith’s College, London in 2005. He now lives and works in Bedfordshire. Selected by Lizzie Carey Thomas for Frieze Magazine’s Emerging Artists of 2008, Holden staged a solo exhibition as part of Tate Britain’s Art Now series in 2010, where he showed 'The Pyramid Piece' and 'Return of the Pyramid Piece'.

Holden has exhibited widely both internationally and throughout the UK. A major solo show of new work opens at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge from 14 May – 3 July 2011, with new film, sculpture, collage and ephemera, alongside a programme of music performances.

Other recent solo exhibitions include The Desert Project (or hard on in the desert), WORKS|PROJECTS, Bristol (2009); The World is Round and Mr Wrigley Makes Chewing Gum, Kuntsfort Vijfhuizen, NL (2008); You Go On Without Me, Hex Projects, London (2008); Here, Gallery 54, Toronto, Canada (2007) and So Long See You Tomorrow, Hidde Van Seggelen, London (2006).

Significant group exhibitions include include Performed, The Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge (2009), Experimenta Folklore, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Germany (2008) and Colour Now, Gallerie Van Gelder, Amsterdam and The Thing-In-Itself, Peles Gallery, curated by Mark Leckey (2006).

About Simon Morrissey

Simon Morrissey is Director of WORKS|PROJECTS, the commercial gallery which he established in Bristol in November 2008, which represents a small stable of emerging and established British artists.

Simon is also curator at Foreground, the visual arts commissioning organisation he founded with Tabitha Clayson in 2007. Based in Frome, Somerset, Foreground realise temporary and permanently sited contemporary art projects in the South West of England that explore the relationship between art and its diverse settings and publics.

Educated at Warwick University (BA Hons History, MA European Cultural Policy & Administration), Simon worked at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 1994-1996, and Matt’s Gallery, London 1996 – 1999. Since 1999, Simon has worked as an independent curator. His curated projects have been commissioned by leading public institutions and commercial galleries including The British Council; Arnolfini, Bristol; The Bowes Museum, County Durham; Forma, Newcastle/London; and Spike Island, Bristol as well as being produced as self-initiated projects.

He has written extensively on contemporary art & edited publications for numerous leading galleries and publishers in Britain and internationally. He contributed widely to UK art and architecture magazines and periodicals between 1995 & 2003.

Simon is also Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at University of the West of England, where he is a member of the PLACE research centre, which addresses recent theories of place, location, and context in contemporary visual art.

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.