For more than fifteen years, Steven Claydon has been making work that questions the agency of objects, the “thinglyness” of things, and the various cultural and social histories that attach themselves to materials and matter. Through sculpture, installation, video, painting, sound and performance, Claydon opens up and activates that split or rupture between a thing’s inherent objectivity and the anthropocentric efficacy or utility that is variously imposed, acquired or attached to it over time.
In a recent exhibition at Bergen Kunsthall, Claydon showed two video works within a newly constructed display environment, The Ancient Set and The Fictional Pixel (both 2008). Both might be seen to exemplify the artist’s ongoing interests, concerned as they are with ideas of authenticity, linguistics and etymology, as well as the way in which contemporary society co-opts cultural emblems and artifacts from the past, only to spuriously deploy them in the service of a fictionalized present.
In The Fictional Pixel—which collages together found material from an Apple iPhone promotional video, footage from historic reenactments and veiled references to Martin Heidegger as represented by the motif of the Smurf—Claydon proposes an equivalence between the atom, which was first advanced as a theory in pre-Socratic thinking as the smallest indivisible particle of matter, and the pixel or “picture-element,” first used as a term by NASA in relation to early video transmissions from the moon. The Ancient Set further develops these themes through a very different structure, based around the amateur performance of ancient music and poems on reconstructed instruments. Using material drawn from the Internet, Claydon floats this found digital flotsam into a soup of formal chaos, the results generated using an analogue video synthesizer.
The duality and dichotomy between
history and technology.
In his forthcoming solo exhibition “Analogues, Methods, Monsters, Machines,” curated by Andrea Bellini at the Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva, Claydon will develop a number of these themes through a group of new works which draw very specifically on the geographic, cultural and technological histories of Switzerland, including the Hadron Collider, Mary Shelley and the discredited Swiss-born scientist Erich von Daniken. The duality and dichotomy between (retrospective) history and (progressive) technology becomes a fundamental point of departure, a way to amplify and enable his interest in the established conventions and modes of taxonomy and display, as well as mimicry and mimesis, fact and fiction.
A number of Claydon’s new works employ precious, “noble” and base metals, including gold, which was formed at an early stage of the inflating universe through very specific conditions of heat and pressure. Gold is a finite material and fiscally valuable, but its status is by no means exclusively financial. Beyond its anthropocentric technological and cultural uses, it exists as raw substance, innate materiality, benignly buried in seams deep within the earth, subtly but energetically interacting with its elemental neighbours.
Whether fashioned into a primitive talisman or employed in the construction of a state-of-the-art satellite, the faith we continue to invest in these various man-made constructions renders them to some degree animistic. As we press deeper into the digital, “post-Internet” era, Claydon’s work seems more timely and influential than ever. His investigations into matter and consciousness, monsters and chimeras—this “secular animism”—feel entirely contemporary, essential, elemental and ancient.
Steven Claydon (British, b. 1969) lives and works in London. He is represented by David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; Sadie Coles HQ, London; and Massimo De Carlo, Milan/London. His upcoming projects include a solo show at Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, on view from 18 September – 22 November.
Martin Clark is Director of Bergen Kunsthall and Artistic Director for Art Sheffield 2016.
Image: Builded Bodies, 2011, Courtesy of the artist and Massimo De Carlo, Milan/London