– Summer 2013

Mark Leckey: Formal Love

Tags: Jeff Koons, Mark Leckey

Mark Leckey, BigBoxIndustrialAction, 2003—12, mixed media installation. Installation view, ‘Mark Leckey: Work & Leisure’, Manchester Art Gallery, 2012. Courtesy the artist and Cabinet, London

If you stand at one of the windows of the Villa Borghese in Rome and look out over the skyline of the ancient city, there is a small but very distinctive church spiral that stands out because of its eccentric shape. Francesco Borromini’s cupola for his beautiful little church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza (1642—60) is modelled on both a conch shell and imaginations about the Tower of Babel — it expresses the process of growth and contains within it the image of both time and movement. It defies and breaks with classical rules of composition, but in doing so it also takes these very same rules seriously. It thus produces an intervention, a confrontation, if you like, with all the other buildings in Rome. It asks them to speak their truth, to reveal why they have for so long repressed and refused the form that Borromini invented. But most of all, it gives pause. And, stunningly, as you stand looking out from the Villa Borghese today, you feel the continued palpability of that pause.

Thinking about Borromini recently, it occurred to me that this is exactly the kind of confrontation that Mark Leckey would enjoy, and might even stage. So much of Leckey’s work is both an interregnum — that is, it produces pause, reflection and at least a temporary cessation of the historical inevitability of progress — and a marker for the possibility that thought might be passing from one mode to another, without being able to say definitively what the effect of that transformation is.

Leckey stages confrontations at the cusp of discursive intelligibility, at the very moment when the relationship between forms begins

  1. See Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (1991, trans. Catherine Porter), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993, p.10.

  2. Interestingly, the increasing rivalry between sound systems in 1950s Jamaica led to the development of soundclashes — a form of musical competition between (reggae or dancehall) sound systems in which two teams of DJs, MCs and engineers attempt to outdo each other by employing heavy and large speakers capable of amplifying full-volume bass sounds. See ‘The Big Big Sound System Splashdown’, New Musical Express, 21 February 1981, available at http://uncarved.org/dub/splash. In a very different context, loud music is also widely used by military forces as a form of torture. Most significantly, during the US invasion of Panama in December 1989, US military forces bombarded General Manuel Noriega with extremely loud rock music to drive him out of the Vatican embassy where he had taken refuge. See Ronald H. Cole, ‘Operation Just Cause: The Planning and Execution of Joint Operations in Panama, February 1988—January 1990’, Washington, DC: Joint History Office, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1995, available at http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/doctrine/history/justcaus.pdf  (both last accessed on 31 March 2013).

  3. The representations of the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea referred to here are Agnolo Bronzino’s Pigmalione e Galatea (c.1530), Francisco de Goya’s Pigmalón y Galatea (1812 20) and Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Pigmalion et Galatée (c.1890).

  4. William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale (1623, ed. Ernest Schanzer), London: Penguin Books, 1969, p.152.

  5. It is worth noting that, despite their radically different sculptural forms and traditions, Henry Moore’s Upright Motive No.9 and Jeff Koons’s Rabbit were made just seven years apart.

  6. For instance, in L’Exécution de Maximilien (Execution of the Emperor Maximilian, 1867), Édouard Manet responds to Francisco de Goya’s El 3 de mayo en Madrid, o ‘Los fusilamientos’ (The Third of May 1808 in Madrid: The Executions on Principe Pio Hill, 1814), while his L’Acteur tragique (The Tragic Actor, 1866) quotes Diego Velàzquez’s Pablo de Valladolid (The Buffoon, Pablo de Valladolid, 1636—37).

  7. Robert Rauschenberg, Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953

  8. See Paolo Portoghesi, The Rome of Borromini by Paolo Portoghesi: Architecture as Language (1967, trans. Barbara Luigia La Penta), New York and London: George Braziller and Thames & Hudson, 1968.