Jim Lambie’s Wonderland

Jim Lambie and 'Metal Box (Istanbul)', 2013
Jim Lambie and ‘Metal Box (Istanbul)’, 2013

I had just stepped off a 12 hour flight and finished reading Aldous Huxley’s ‘The Doors of Perception’ when I walked into Jim Lambie‘s first Hong Kong solo exhibition at Pearl Lam Gallery, ‘The Flowers of Romance’. It seemed I’d stepped into the pages of the very book I had been reading. The entire exhibition — a collation of site specific installations and new and older works — is charged with energy. The gallery bursts at the seams with movement and pulses with energy in a trippy frenzy of colour and fun.

Short-listed for the 2005 Turner Prize, Glasgow-born Lambie made his name with his floor installation, ‘Zobop’ that he laid down in the Tate Britain and Modern Art Oxford. His Hong Kong exhibition has echoes of that career-defining floor installation. Spread out beneath your feet is ‘The Strokes’. Drawing on the aesthetic of Chinese ink drawings, it is a dizzying display of blue and white lines and curves covering the entire floor.

Lambie used to play with what is now the Teenage Fan Club and DJs today still. It’s evident that music continues to play an integral role in his art. If music could physically manifest this is what it would look like. Like a successor to Kandinsky and Mondrian, he disassembles and reconstructs line and space, manipulating them as if they are the beats of jazz or punk. The space is alive and active — here the floor is the baseline, atop it sit concrete blocks of albums, symbolic and literal melodies.

There’s a synaesthetic and kinetic quality to his pieces; they draw you into another dimension as if stepping into Oz. “This is work that is very much about environment, psychological as well as physical,” explains gallery director, Althea Viafora-Kress. Apolitical, Lambie uses observations from the quotidian and pop culture to inform his work. It is his ability to transform the mundane into something otherworldly, to transport the viewer and alter perception, that has led at least one critic to refer to the artist as a genius.

Although acutely aware of and well versed in art history and art language, his work is not referential of it. Rather he is able to effortlessly break the rules of art language precisely because he already knows them. “This sets him apart from most artists” says Viafora-Kress. “He’s not appropriating pop art, he’s making it.”

I had first met Lambie in a club during Frieze London a couple of years ago (over a few vodkas), a chance encounter that surprisingly he seemed to immediately recollect upon meeting again. With his shaggy long fringe constantly flopping over his face, downcast eyes and shuffle, and self-effacing nature, he strikes one more as more of a ’90s-era emo rocker than a 40 something successful and critically lauded artist. As unpretentious as his work and remarkably down-to-earth, here he takes us through his exhibition and down the rabbit hole into Lambie Land.

'The Strokes', 2013
‘The Strokes’, 2013

I’m dealing with sculpture, with ideas and architecture; these are the things that concern me. I can understand why people bring certain references into my work but that’s not what I concern myself with. I’m happy my work opens up conversation or dialogue. I’m not making work that has hard-edged meaning to it. People are really important to me and their stories can be just as relevant to the work itself no matter where I’m coming from.

The Strokes
This floor piece (above), it’s older brother, called ‘Zobop’, started with a hard edge at the corner of the gallery. I take one piece of tape and follow the whole room and repeat with other widths of tape until I find my way to the middle … it’s about undulation and movement in the room. It goes to the very edge of the gallery wall. It’s a massive piece if you think about it, taking up the whole gallery. It appears and disappears. You can forget you’re on it, that it’s even an art work. I guess it’s a kind of reference to the grooves on a record. I DJ. Maybe when I’m mixing up songs and chopping them up to make new sense, I guess that’s where I take my reference from. These concrete blocks (‘Sonic Reducer’ series), the dimensions of them are taken from record shelves at home, for the same kind of records you pick up in junk shops — the stuff people throw out. But they’re soundtracks to people’s lives as well. They’re scattered throughout the gallery to give you a feeling of drifting through the space … of flotsam and jetsam. In a way I guess it’s the way that music drifts through your room, at home. There’s a gentle undulation to them. Along with the floor it just accentuates the feeling of floating and drifting … I like the way that it puts a skin on to the gallery.

From Musician to Artist
I was a terrible musician. ‘I could have been a contender’ but I wasn’t.[Laughs] I’ve always been around music. My dad was a DJ; he had the first mobile discotheque in town. The house was always filled with records – mainly pop records, chart records. There was nothing exotic — no Handel or Mozart. It was pretty much pop and 70s, all readily available and easily disposed of. My formative years were about that — music was always there. But I’ve always been interested in art, and I get tired of being in bands. The thing about being in bands is you’ve got and other 3 or 4 people there, and I got tired of it. What I wanted to do was take up the whole day for myself. I was getting more and more interested in making art than struggling with being in a band, so I made a decision, and here we are today.

Metal Icons
This piece (‘Metal Box’, 2013, below) was inspired by an observation. When bands come and play posters are put up. In Glasgow it rains a lot and the edges of the posters start to peel away and you start to see parts of other posters come through … I enjoyed the aesthetic of it and thought that maybe there was a way to make a version of a painting, or maybe not a painting maybe a sculpture — somehow maybe do both at the same time. So that’s the backdrop to this piece and that’s how my thinking began. This is sheet aluminium, 2mm gauge, so I can bend it by hand at the corners as a reference to the posters. Each sheet is painted a different colour on each side and they’re layered on top of each other.

'Metal Box (Hyacinth Orchid)', 2013
‘Metal Box (Hyacinth Orchid)’, 2013

Daydreams and Inspiration
An idea just happens and there’s a moment where art just makes itself. I’m not always completely in control until the very end … Sometimes I start with a space or place, and other times I’m inspired by things that happen — simple observations and things like that, or two objects that are placed next to each other and happen to interest me. For me it’s important to keep looking at the world and filtering that and hopefully keep making new works that other people find interesting. This piece (‘Plaza’, 1999/2013, below), I was standing on a road in Glasgow, dreaming in Lambie land and across the road from me was a woman carrying shopping. She had a hole in one of the red bags she was carrying and walked for a bit without realising that a carton of milk started pouring out of the bag. I was just casually observing but thought it was quite a beautiful thing. That’s the backstory to this piece — it’s a dream piece, you know? Some things happen like that for me, and other things I have to think really hard about and problem solve.

'Plaza', 1999/2013
‘Plaza’, 1999/2013

Into the Vortex
The floor pieces take you to the very edge of the gallery, but what I wanted to do with this (‘Vortex’, 2013, below) was extend that beyond, almost as if the floor is getting sucked out of the room. It’s a piece of work that’s going beyond the gallery wall now, taking you further into an imagined space. The hard edge of the work is getting played with, getting softened up and extended and turned into a dream object.

Jim Lambie standing beside 'Vortex (Into the Void)', 2013
Jim Lambie standing beside ‘Vortex (Into the Void)’, 2013


Jim Lambie: The Flowers of Romance
16 April- 14 May, 2013

Pearl Lam Gallery
6/F Pedder Building
12 Pedder Street, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2522 1428

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