Hardly anyone pays attention to the equestrian statues that dot city centres around the world, embodying completely different values from what's important nowadays. And that's partly the point of Simon Patterson's project – that such sculptures are somehow equivalent in their irrelevance. Why not, just to shake things up, swap them around?
Exchange the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square, say, with that of Henri IV on the Pont Neuf in Paris; or Charlemagne in Paris, for Marcus Aurelius in Rome. Hence the collective title Patterson has chosen for his nine such proposals: 'Under Cartel', a term referring to the international status of traded prisoners of war and hostages. The idea is for the statues to be seen in a fresh light – to raise questions about their cultural value, their worth as military and national symbols.
It's all totally fanciful, of course – this isn't a genuine proposal, merely an artistic conceit. The exchanges are represented by neon arrows fixed to the gallery walls, pointing between framed photographs of the statues in question. Except that actually, crucially, the photographs don't depict the statues themselves, but simply other, preexisting images – mainly blown-up versions of 35mm slides, complete with their mounts. The point is to show that everything on display is only a representation of something else.
Themes to do with meaning, circularity, the interchangeability of signs and symbols are familiar territory for Patterson. It's a very conceptual, even linguistic approach to art-making; yet the result doesn't feel dry or overly cerebral. As an imagined reordering of the world, it feels playful, whimsical, possibly even slightly sinister. After all, if everything is potentially interchangeable, then by implication every arrangement, including our current reality, is equally arbitrary and tenuous.