Michael Landy's Art Bin
For 2001's 'Break Down', Michael Landy destroyed everything he owned in the name of art. Now he's inviting other artists to send their own work to the crusher. Time Out goes collecting with the artist turned bin man.
It's 10am on an icy Monday morning and I'm with Michael Landy and a giant white van outside the east London studio of artist Giles Corby. We're here to collect Corby's sculpture 'Underworld'- a sci-fi landscape constructed from burnt floorboards and an old dining room table - and transport it back to the South London Gallery for Landy's exhibition 'Art Bin'. As the two specialist art handlers carefully load the sculpture into the van it's difficult not to feel a certain amount of irony in the care with which it's being treated. When the exhibition opens, this work, alongside hundreds of others, will be piled up in a giant 18 x 8 x 5 metre transparent skip. At the end, it will all be taken apart and destroyed.
'Art Bin' is the latest of Landy's projects to explore how value is attributed when objects get consigned to the rubbish heap. In his most famous work, 'Break Down', Landy systematically dismantled all his posessions and ground them into granules. With 'Art Bin', however, it's the value of art itself which Landy is questioning and it's already highlighting ambiguities and contradictions in how we judge creativity.
'Artists nominate their own work for the bin by sending a description and images online but I decide whether it goes in,' Landy explains, as Corby waves goodbye to his sculpture. 'I don't have a set of criteria and it's not about the quality of the work, because in the artworld there's no consensus on what's good or bad. Also, artists will want to put work in for different reasons, not just because they think it's failed.' For Corby it's about space. 'This work has already been exhibited several times,' he says, 'so it's had a successful life. For me this is an opportunity to clear out old work in order to make some new.'
Next stop in the van is The Woodmill in Bermondsey, a new artists' studio and gallery complex run by Goldsmiths graduates in former council premises. First on Landy's pick-up list is Miriam Austin's work 'Waiting for Persephone' which, we discover, can't be collected today because it incorporates aubergines and objects constructed from ice and the artist was intending to come and install it on-site, in the belly of the bin. 'There have been quite a few misunderstandings about the nature of the project,' Landy says, unperturbed, 'including people asking about insurance and when their work is going to be returned. And although I am curating an exhibition, of sorts, the work will be thrown, rather than exhibited, in the bin.' A compromise is reached with Austin and her work remains on the 'Yes' list.
Also included in the morning's haul is an inch-long Origami paper skip by Ciaran Begley, a student video picked up from Kate Pickering and a large sea shell with a strobe light attached from Blue Curry - one of a series which the artist feels 'wasn't quite right'. As Curry hands over his work we're filmed by a BBC TV crew who are making a documentary about the legacy of Goldsmiths Art College (birthplace of the now rather aged Young British Artists), which adds another layer to Landy's exploration of artworld success and failure.
Landy's final collection is a wonky construction from Stuart Middleton, although he retains one part of the sculpture because he wants to reuse the wood. 'That's another interesting point,' Landy adds. 'Artists are destroying and recycling their work all the time because they can't afford new materials. They just don't normally make an exhibition of it. When we destroy the work after the exhibition we will recycle as much of it as we can.'
Landy wants work by all kinds of artists in his bin and has asked famous friends to participate. So far Sir Peter Blake, Gary Hume, Michael Craig-Martin and the artist's partner, Turner Prize-winner Gillian Wearing, have made donations. Landy is also putting in 11 of his own works, including two portrait drawings from his 2008 London show, of New York curator Richard Flood and journalist Kirsty Wark. 'They just didn't look like the individuals,' he says. As the final work is loaded into the van I ask Landy whether 'Art Bin' can itself fail as an artwork. 'It might do, if I don't get enough stuff to fill it. Then I'd have to make an even bigger bin to put the Art Bin in!'
Art Bin' is at the South London Gallery from Jan 29-Mar 14 2010. Artists wanting to offer work for inclusion in the bin should submit details at www.art-bin.co.uk.