ALAN MAGEE   WORKS   BIOGRAPHY   CONTACT   TEXT  

 

  An existentialism of labour by Marie d'Elbée
"Alan Magee's multi-layered work raises questions about the nature of signs and reality unravelling a complex mise en abime which blurs the ideas of nature and definition...." Continue reading

An Interview with Alan Magee by Susie Pentelow
"Realising this slippage is why I tend to stay away from raw materials, preferring instead something already of the world - something that has a name and function. This also anchors the work to a broader shared reality......" Continue reading

Alan Magee, Return to glory by Mark Sheerin
"For this reason Magee’s piece is a bold act of resistance. It is both sculpture, painting and, in stepping back from one example of each, a radical piece of curating......" Continue reading

Castor Projects: Trade by Charley Peters
"Alan Magee’s Return to Glory (2014) is a knowingly witty piece in which the artist seals up the holes in hula-hoops by filling them with plaster. Magee, along with Rachael Champion, provides the most light-hearted moments of Trade......." Continue reading

The act of finding, rather than carving is celebrated in Morphisisation by Mark Sheerin
"Alan Magee has two works, one of which is made out of ubiquitous plaything Lego. The result looks like a Death Star the size of a tennis ball and has been sanded into a spherical form......" Continue reading

Landfill of Ghosts by Jennette Donnelly
"This pseudo reality has brought on a society filled with permanently confused people. We are continually striving for the unobtainable and punishing ourselves throughout the journey. Alan Magee has confronted the viewer with just that......." Continue reading


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‘An existentialism of labour’

Alan Magee's multi-layered work raises questions about the nature of signs and reality unravelling a complex mise en abime which blurs the ideas of nature and definition. 

One of his installations stages a very precise drawing of a piece of wood, which is hung above the perfect reproduction of a door wedge. During the making process of this work, the piece of wood is drawn, crushed to powder, and poured with glue into a mould previously crafted from a model of an industrial wedge. The cast is then painted to perfectly resemble the original model.

The replica masks the underlying reality of what it stands for, imitating it so well that it threatens to replace it. This substitution of the "signs of the real for the real” conveys a strong sense of de-realisation.

Another work presents wooden household objects that are so meticulously covered in graphite that they give the impression of being made of lead. The distinction between nature and the artifice is lost, and questions about the undetermined identity of what is being perceived are raised.
 
Magee develops a kind of existentialism of labour, as he attempts to find a place in the world through his working process. The series of actions undertaken are often analogous to that of a factory or working environment that would aim to create functional objects. However , through this process, he purposefully distorts their use into something else, operating a transfer of values as they shift from common object to work of art. As they are changed, the objects flit between their original and altered functions, and "end up in a state of not quite right, yet not quite wrong". Evoking the frustration and difficulty of having a determining grasp on reality, the artist seems at times to take a playful revenge on the potential powerlessness of his human condition.

Magee elaborates a schizoid vision in which the world, the objects and himself, are amalgamated into one. Art is used as a way to assert his marks on a slippery reality which can only be reached through transformation. In this manner, the act of altering objects around him transforms in a same gesture his own person and the world.

Localising his activity "between 'traditional' art processes and absurdist pottering", Magee nourishes his ideas with refined craft skills, whether in the precision of his drawings or in the mastered finishing of his objects. His work interrogates the distinction between reality and its representation, while his process explores the possibility of finding a place in the world through the action of transformation.

Author Marie d'Elbée
Published in FAD

d'Elbée, M. (2013). Review: Alan Magee’s multi-layered work. FAD, [Online]. Available: http://fadmagazine.com/2013/09/12/review-alan-magees-multi-layered-work/. Last accessed 13th Sep 2013.

 

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An Interview with Alan Magee by Susie Pentelow

When encountering the work of London-based artist Alan Magee, the viewer is likely to experience a disorientating mix of recognition and confusion. His manipulation of familiar objects and materials leads us to see the ordinary in an entirely new light. Traction Magazine interviews the artist.

In encountering your sculptures, the viewer frequently experiences a certain ambiguity between the original and new identities of the piece, in that our recognition of a certain form is skewed by its new appearance. Is this slippage something that interests you?

Yes, that slippage is extremely important to the work, in so far as neither the past nor present incarnations of the object are lost.

The history of the objects that I work with generally influences my working process. That process would be meaningless if the history was erased entirely and so the slippage allows for these links to exist. In this way, even a simple transformation leads to numerous ‘things’ existing simultaneously in the one work. This also means that many of the works refuse to settle, and perpetually remain in flux.

Realising this slippage is why I tend to stay away from raw materials, preferring instead something already of the world - something that has a name and function. This also anchors the work to a broader shared reality. It’s important for me that people know the objects in the work; how these objects feel, their weight, what they cost even, and where to find them.


We often see your work ‘denying’ an object its original function. Do you consider this act to be aggressive, or, indeed, liberating?

That depends on which side you’re on… as the artist, it’s liberating for me. I assert power over these objects, but they have no recourse. So in that sense it is also an aggressive act. In ‘Chair with knees’ for example, I grant the chair the gift of life by giving it human appendages, only to have it perpetually kneel before me; same with ‘Coat-stand with neck’.

I see the solitary man as a powerless being, unable to affect most of the elements in his life, even if there is the illusion that he can. His home is the last domain under his control and the objects in his home are all he has to work with. So that if he breaks something, fixes something or names something, he owns it, and that’s a sort of power. Then in this circumstance objects can be viewed anthropomorphically, which adds a kind of pathos the plight of both man and object. So the words ‘aggressive’ or ‘liberating’ apply perfectly here. In her book, ‘The Human Condition’, Hannah Arendt writes of Labour, Work and Action. The former achieves nothing and is the lowest form of activity, the latter aids humanity and is thus the highest. In contemporary society where the individual has no access to meaningful Work or Action, all that is left is Labour. And so our daily routine can become an act of empowerment, a futile act of empowerment.


In many of your pieces you are applying labour-intensive craft methods to readymades, which suggests a tension between the handmade and the mass produced. How do you feel about the hierarchy that still exists between these two ‘grades’ of objects?

There are a number of elements at play when I am working with, or modifying readymades.

As previously mentioned one of these relates to power and influence. There is the sense of ‘locus of control’ with regards to how you live your life, what you use every day and how you relate to it. As an object maker, I am interested in the things that surround us – our links with the world. Yet I find that increasingly we have less understanding of them. We don’t understand the interiors of microchips, or the chemical compound of plastics, and this is an alienating force – as mass production in general is alienating. That’s one element.

The other element is a sort of existentialism of labour. Consequently much of my practice is about trying to find, and evidence, my place in the world through work. I am curious about the relationship between artistic process and everyday life, so in this sense, the way in which I work oscillates between ‘traditional’ arts processes and perhaps that of a factory worker. Subsequently much of what I do questions the function and value of both art and art objects, and in so doing, questions the value and function of the artist. This can be seen, for example, in the use of drawing in both ‘Agents of Change’ and ‘Wood drawings and wedges’.


In your recent work - specifically ‘Gapfill: More beauty, more happiness’ and ‘SORRY’ - you have worked in a much larger scale than we have previously seen. How, in your view, does the application of scale influence our interaction with an artwork?

As many of my works are referencing the home they are domestic in scale, and domestic items are made in relation to the human body – which is the primary benchmark for reading sculpture. Something is bigger, smaller or similar size to the human body, we feel it in the presence of sculpture, whether we are conscious of it or not.

However, both of those works you mention were in the same show, which was heavily influenced by the architecture of the space (a huge 19th Century building with a modern extension). ‘Gapfill: More beauty, more happiness’ was a direct response to the buildings history and took its proportions directly from the site. The building had once been a church, later a shop and was then a temporary art space. So with this in mind I wanted to explore the idea of spectacle - as a counter to community or togetherness. On one hand I wanted the piece to be big, bright, colourful and attractive, but on the other hand non-functional and to act as a divisive agent. The audience could get into it, be surrounded by it, but still not gain that real sense of fulfilment from it.

‘SORRY’ existed as both a barrier and a threshold, and needed to be bigger than the viewers. They then had to navigate the word to continue through the exhibition, and by passing through the letters were implicated with the sentiment. For both works I was very happy to work on a larger scale, but being a London-based artist, space is a rare luxury.

Interview by Susie Pentelow
Published in Traction Magazine

Pentelow, S, 2014. An Interview with Alan Magee. Traction Magazine, [Online]. July,-. Available at:http://tractionmagazine.co.uk/post/93299804199/alan-magee [Accessed 03 August 2014].


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Alan Magee, Return to glory (2014)

Two disks grace the gallery. One sits on the floor. One hangs on the wall. Looking closer, their outer rims can be identified as hula hoops. But there will be no gyrating here today.

Both hoops have been measured up for a plasterboard inner, and worked over with filler to produce an artwork. So that carpentry and plastering skills more in evidence than chiselling or moulding.

So the productive status of Return to glory is ambiguous. Is it really a work, resulting in a useful end product? Or is it a piece of menial labour? Possibly, only the market decides.

Irish artist Magee is much concerned with these distinctions and points me in the direction of Hannah Arendt for a discussion of work, labour and action.

Returning to the source of distinctions like this, Arendt recalls Aristotle. The Greek would have given citizenship to shepherds and painters, but not peasants or sculptors.

In the ancient world they had contempt for the slave class, and Magee seems to play up to this, as a provocation, with his use of poor materials and trade skills.

If his two hoops are a really a return to glory, it is therefore because one adorns the wall and might be called a painting. Whether or not it would have pleased Aristotle is a moot point.

Unlike the wall-mounted piece, hula hoops are not usually a perfect circle. Where the hoop joins, you can usually find a stiffened flatter piece of tubing, the artist tells me.

So the work on the floor (therefore a scupture) rests on this straight edge. The work on the wall (a painting of sorts) has been filled out with plasterboard to make a perfect circle.

Arendt also notes that in ancient Greece, there was a feeling of arrogance among the painters. She recalls that even as late as the renaissance, sculptors were considered to be servile.

For this reason Magee’s piece is a bold act of resistance. It is both sculpture, painting and, in stepping back from one example of each, a radical piece of curating. Nothing menial about that.

Author Mark Sheerin
Published in Criticismism

Mark Sheerin. 2014. Alan Magee, Return to glory. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.criticismism.com/2014/09/10/alan-magee-return-to-glory-2014/. [Accessed 10 October 14].

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Castor Projects: Trade

In extolling the virtues of the un-extraordinary, Sol LeWitt wrote that “the most interesting characteristic of the cube is that it is relatively uninteresting.” Castor Projects’ inaugural exhibition, Trade, continues the idea of seeing the extraordinary in the everyday by bringing together a group of five contemporary artists with a shared interest in the sculptural qualities of low-grade industrial materials.

On first appearances, many works in Trade adhere to the conventions of minimalist sculpture through their favouring of plain, factory-made or found mass-produced materials. However, despite the use of raw materials and a consistent colour palette of monochrome and neutral hues, there is an unexpected, gentle humour displayed by several of the artists that adds an expressive content to the seemingly austere objects.

Alan Magee’s Return to Glory (2014) is a knowingly witty piece in which the artist seals up the holes in hula-hoops by filling them with plaster. Magee, along with Rachael Champion, provides the most light-hearted moments of Trade. Champion’s Naturally Occuring Brutalist Body (2013) is a bulging dome of pebble-dash that appears to grow from the gallery wall – challenging the boundaries of construction and organism, and providing an unavoidable reference to 1970s urban architecture.

Andy Wicks’ understated geometric forms are the most formally reductive works in Trade. His work has a literal presence, independent of the figurative references of (for example) Matt Blackler’s oversized cast-iron drill bit and the subtle real-world references of Magee, Champion and Matt Calderwood, shown physically making and remaking structures containing six blocks in his film Six Sculptures (2011).

A confident presentation of contemporary sculpture, Trade explores an implied minimalist abstract space within a wider vernacular of restrained figuration.

Author Charley Peters
Published in Saturation Point

Charley Peters. 2014. Castor Projects: Trade. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.saturationpoint.org.uk/trade.html. [Accessed 30 September 14].

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The act of finding, rather than carving is celebrated in Morphisisation at APT Gallery

A new exhibition of sculpture in Deptford provides an examination of the act of finding, rather than carving, modelling or moulding. Morphisisation brings together some 14 artists whose chief interest lies with pre-existing objects.

There are 21 of these largely found artworks which fill the well-respected APT Gallery without crowding it. Initial impressions are of light, colour and good humour. It is an engaging suite of artwork, perhaps thanks to the widespread use of familiar raw materials.

Highlights include a Simon Lewandowski piece, which comes with the self-explanatory title: 100 Things with Handles. Among those things is a copy of Giorgio Vasari’s early example of art history: The Lives of the Artists. You might not have thought a paperback book could be improved with a suitcase handle.

Alan Magee has two works, one of which is made out of ubiquitous plaything Lego. The result looks like a Death Star the size of a tennis ball and has been sanded into a spherical form.  Attached here, another handle of sorts, is a wordy title: There is no way of knowing if this is meaningful, let alone the beginning of something. Thankfully the small piece has enough presence to own it.

Susan Collis, who is perhaps best known for recreating paint splattered building materials with semi-precious stones and coral, brings a new departure to APT. Her so-called Little Helpers, a dozen kitsch figurines which perch on the edge of the reception desk, repay close attention as you spot the many subtle differences between them. Just where might you find such a collection as this, one wonders.

Artist Ben Woodeson might know. The joint winner of the 2014 Anthology Prize at Charlie Smith Gallery has curated this mercurial show. His own piece is a precarious arrangement of free weights and plate glass. 

So the found objects are put in a dynamic and, yes, dangerous relation. You wouldn’t get away with it outside of an art gallery. 

But then again, art is what you can get away with, as Warhol said. That goes for all the works in this coherent show, where the stuff of everyday life is displaced to witty and quietly subversive effect.

Author Mark Sheerin
Published in Culture 24

Mark Sheerin. 2014. The act of finding, rather than carving is celebrated in Morphisisation at APT Gallery. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.culture24.org.uk/art/art494696-The-act-of-finding-rather-than-carving-is-celebrated-in-Morphisisation-at-APT-Gallery. [Accessed 30 September 14].

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‘Landfill of Ghosts’

We now live in a society where Beauty and Happiness are defined by material possessions and photoshopped images whether we want to believe this, or not. Images of celebrities bombard us daily on advertisements, social media sites and even, the news. ‘Beautiful people’ websites, created to show before and after images of reality, the true and the gritty, succeed only to further the conundrum of which image came first and which followed, creating a ‘Chicken and Egg’ enigma.  This pseudo reality has brought on a society filled with permanently confused people. We are continually striving for the unobtainable and punishing ourselves throughout the journey. Alan Magee has confronted the viewer with just that.

A glowing reminder greeted me upon arriving at ‘Gapfill: More Beauty, More Happiness’ by Alan Magee. Housed in the former Methodist church and school in Drogheda, it’s the latest project from Drogheda based artist led team Nexus Arts in conjunction with Highlanes Gallery. A brightly coloured, custom made bouncing castle hung upturned in the centre of the first interior space. Used previously as a shop, this former place of worship has been stripped bare and altered to become the model of a universally recognised industrial unit. This piece stirs up childhood memories. A time of pure happiness and naivety when possibilities are limitless and joy can be found in the mundane. The piece itself is created to specifically fit within the space conforming to its limits and allowing it to exist within these boundaries. I wanted to find a way to bounce, to play, to achieve the elation once felt. None of the promises so proudly housed were offered, my quest remaining insurmountable.

The bitterness of defeat turned sour when I turned to be confronted by a large scale installation spelling out ‘S-O-R-R-Y’. Longing to return to that momentary relapse into childhood bliss, I was confronted by my own restraints. Like the castle, a fairytale home made famous by a corporation, I was stuck, unmoving and unfulfilled. My mind became clouded with my personal blocks of guilt and regret rendering me unable to move on, to find peace, to find happiness. The bare wood of this installation did not attempt to sell me any glossy stories or trick me to believe it had a secret yet untold. Steeling Myself, I allowed my eye to be enamoured by what peeked through the gaps between the lettering and steadied my course, strategically side-stepping the iceberg in my path.

What awaited me was decay. A fleeting life-span created by expanding foam and found objects bound together in knowing defeat sinking and flaking beneath their own force. The knowledge of decay seeping from every strand of each construction with oozing, splurging, bulges as they attempted to retain what they once were. No polish, glamour or retouching, just reality. A resting place for everyday objects. Objects holding memories in their very construct, banished for the newest model to keep in with the Jones’s. Laid to rest in this landfill of ghosts.

Alan Magee has taken a space lacking in hope but full of potential, and breathed life into it. While some exhibitions can leave the viewer empty, devoid of any connection; here, we are encouraged to remember the sweet innocence of childhood, engage with the future, to question society and face our own person. Magee has inspired a genuine response in his audience and, in doing so, has created a very successful exhibition indeed.

Author Jennette Donnelly

Donnelly, J. (2013). Landfill of Ghosts. [Online]. Available: http://nexusarts.eu/public_html/index.php/news. Last accessed 10th Nov 2013.