Installation speaks with Glasgow duo Craig Little and Blake Whitehead of littlewhitehead about their upcoming solo exhibition. Unfinished Business is their second show with Marine Contemporary and we’re offering a preview of the the work before the opening on May 23. Gallerist and owner Claressinka Anderson discusses the evolution of their process and what drew her to their work.
Installation Magazine: How did your collaboration with littlewhitehead begin? When did you first come across their work?
Claressinka Anderson: In the summer of 2010, I was in London and visited the exhibition Newspeak: British Art Now at the Saatchi Gallery where I saw my first littlewhitehead work. It Happened in the Corner, a cluster of life-sized thugs, hoods up, that were all literally facing the corner of the room. The sculpture was ominous, ghoulish and without a doubt the most arresting addition to the space. I walked over and peered up and over the figures, trying to see if I could see what they could see. There was nothing. The absence, however, spoke volumes. And that, of course, was the point. The implied ‘horror’ always starts with the viewer. “Hoodies,” young gang kids prone to knifing innocent people and each other, are universally feared in the UK. Not exactly a cheerful work, yet, there was something funny about this piece. It was absurd, disturbing and utterly compelling. I couldn’t stop thinking about it after I left the gallery.
What about their practice spoke to you?
I saw that littlewhitehead have a real knack for summoning up our collective fears in a cryptic, brutally honest and amusing way. As a result, viewing their work leaves one with the feeling of not knowing whether to laugh or cry. What is most seductive about their practice is that it sits somewhere in this enigmatic and captivating space. They also clearly understand the Uncanny as a feeling of uncertainty, particularly regarding whether something is animate or inanimate. Their use of life-sized elements lures us into simultaneous states of anxiety, repulsion and amusement. This, along with their particular and subversive way of tackling serious cultural concerns places littlewhitehead somewhere in the realm of a contemporary version of Surrealism. littlewhitehead’s works are an assault on the senses as well as an ethical challenge. “We want to beat you up visually,” the artists’ self-proclaimed mission on their website is a reminder of littlewhitehead’s own artistic struggles.
In what way does this show continue or depart from the narratives presented in the first exhibition?
Their first exhibition was called Bad News. It was their solo US debut and their first visit to Los Angeles. Bad News brought together a selection of new work that was preceded by a glut of bad news for the artists. Although the news was very personal, according to them, it allowed them to notice the misfortune of others more readily. Of course, much of the way they see darkness is injected with humor- the press release from that show included a section written by the artists: “Fueled by their own misery, they began consuming the adversities of others and bearing them as their own. Drunk on misfortune and in delirious insomnia, the artists embarked on a journey that took them to the darkest recesses of the human mind. Viewers are invited to enter the dark, twisted, violent universe of littlewhitehead and witness bad news. Come listen to their woes… littlewhitehead ask us to recognize each other and our collective and personal darkness. Like lemon juice on a paper cut, they wake you up and throw a little sugar in the wound too. For their new show, Unfinished Business, the duo are back for just that. They see this show as an opportunity to resolve and build upon ideas that were born of their first trip to Los Angeles and the unresolved nature of some of their most recent works.
DEEP CAPTIONS written by littlewhitehead
This is the first solo exhibition where we’ve had a decent studio in the months running up to the show. It makes a difference, as you are forced to work within the parameters of the space, both physically and psychologically. Broken, disjointed spaces tend to result in equally broken and disjointed work. This time, the studio has allowed us to learn a lot more about how our collaboration works, how we prefer to work and what we want from a piece. We don’t feel the need to fully understand a work to know that it is one. It can be more interesting presenting something that has yet to be fully resolved.
We prefer responding to objects that exist already: bought items, found items and things we’ve made that we either haven’t used or did use before realizing they weren’t functional. We realized that “trying to make” work is often where things go stale. Although trying to make a work most often fails, it is through that failure we attain made objects to work with. So when we begin with intention, we can be sure it will almost always fail to be an artwork, but paradoxically, that failure is necessary.
Untitled Photographic Series
We’ve had these photographs in our studio for a few years. They are unlike the usual found imagery we work with which usually consists of blowing up defaced magazine clippings, computer screenshots, cardboard packaging and old postcards. They were taken by a Glaswegian holidaying in the USA in the late 70’s, so consist largely of everyday Americana unfamiliar to his foreign eyes. We were immediately fascinated by them as they reminded us of some of the sources we revere: Dawn of the Dead, Twin Peaks, Robert Frank, Fred Herzog, William Eggleston and Ed Ruscha. The content of the images feels both familiar and unfamiliar to us, as they present a mythologized America we are used to seeing and consuming but one we haven’t managed to find when we’ve been there. We wonder if we’re fools trying to sell America back to the Americans or if they themselves may feel estranged from the scenes depicted.
Before the exhibition, we embarked on the process of moving into yet another studio. We were surrounded by so many objects and materials made and bought with the intent of becoming works that had never actually materialized. Some of the items bad been exhibited before, but upon reflection, we realized that we didn’t like them. Recycling our work is something we have always done. At first it was purely a financial thing but now it is a little more cathartic. It is important to destroy what we do not like. So this work is a comically-proportioned boulder of all our failures. Although this is as much a monument to our persistence, one is seldom given the opportunity to physically quantify failure.
One of the ski masks has been with us in our studio since we began working together back in 2007. We tried repeatedly to incorporate it into a work but it never felt right. We incorporated one of them into a 2012 piece, but after making and showing the work, we realized it should be destroyed. Because of our continued use of the masks (manipulating them over objects, trying them on figures etc.) they developed definite, worn-in shapes. We realized they had very sculptural, animated forms that have both comic and intimidating characteristics. We realized they were works in their own right. Audiences will likely relate to the obvious criminal connotations and its relationship to the societal pressure of materialistic ambition. We see the title as relating to our overzealous ambition for the objects. But all these interpretations are linked to some form of unhealthy ambition.
These are bespoke faux leather jackets, each with our individual hand-sewn name tags. They are dolls’ clothes scaled up to child’s size. We’ve wanted to do something with leather jackets for a while, ever since we saw a market stall that exclusively sold children’s leather goods. Children’s leather goods don’t sit that well with us. We hope people will see the obvious perversity in them. There’s also something peculiar and jarring about seeing childhood dreams materialize.
We came across the original Chihuahua after our last visit to LA. It was sitting proudly amongst mugs, tea towels, ashtrays and t-shirts in a tourist shop near the Santa Monica Pier. We knew immediately we had to buy it but it sat in our studio for almost two years before we realized what we wanted to do with it. We only really managed to negotiate it once we began thinking of it as an object, as opposed to what it is meant to represent. Attached to the wall, it looks very phallic, with its hips looking like the head of an erect penis and tail the comical “money shot.” For us, Chihuahua’s are a symbol for LA, they are the Hollywood accessory. Kept in a handbag as a status symbol of rich women, they are no longer just dogs but toys that are symbols of wealth and luxury. But this is a toy dog of a toy dog, and displayed in a way that makes it look like a bizarre sex toy. It is simultaneously a genderless accessory and a symbol of comically-proportioned masculinity. Resolving our relationship with the object correlates well with our return to LA, and therefore we are planning a large site-specific installation with multiple Chihuahuas at Marine Contemporary.
Images courtesy of the artist