Returning to an Abandoned Plant is a large, multi-coloured and translucent sculpture by the British artist Liam Gillick. The work is cuboid in shape, measuring 3000 x 2000 x 300 mm, and consists of bright bands of variously coloured transparent thermoplastic and aluminium bars stretching horizontally across the two main rectangular surfaces (front and back). These horizontal components are fixed between vertical aluminium supports that are themselves painted in a range of colours (mauve, lavender, grey, and yellow). The hues of the Perspex bands that comprise the majority of the work’s two main surfaces conform broadly to the primary colours, and the bands themselves are of varying widths and lengths. The variations in extent of the coloured bands are such that the two chief surfaces of the work are each partitioned into a wider column of stripes (approximately 2000 mm in breadth) and a narrower column of stripes (approximately 1000 mm in breadth). The translucent nature of the coloured Perspex bands, as well as the gaps between them, creates the effect of layered colour, as the two main surfaces of the work are separated by only 300 mm.
Created in the artist’s London studio, the sculpture first appeared in March 2007 at the Corvi Mora Gallery, London, in a solo exhibition of Gillick’s work entitled The Commune Itself Becomes a Super State, which featured several works constructed from similar materials. The work’s title, which invokes economic hardship and the decline of a society’s manufacturing industry, has led at least one commentator to read the sculpture as cultural critique. An anonymous reviewer for Artvehicle wrote at the time of the work’s exhibition in 2007:
Collectively, Returning to an Abandoned Plant, Redundancy Following Closure, and Closed Reopened Closed Again (Uddevalla), does invoke something in the way of a political narrative, of place/non-place (Uddevalla, has experienced considerable economic ups and downs, as wells as being appointed the dullest city in Sweden). The choice of materials, enamel spray-painted aluminium and color-impregnated Plexiglas, too hint at industrial manufacturing processes and mass consumption. Perhaps the materiality is central to Gillick’s work, but unlike Judd before him, in this case it could simply be seen as a vehicle for the ‘real’ work.
(‘Liam Gillick: The Commune Itself Becomes a Super State’, Artvehicle, no.13, 2007, http://www.artvehicle.com/events/144, accessed 22 April 2016.)
In his 2016 monograph Industry and Intelligence: Contemporary Art since 1820, the artist has commented on the cultural forces that have shaped the contemporary artistic imagination, employing language that may shed light on the intentions behind his work:
You can draw a parallel between the rise of the experimental factory as a functional promise and the way that critical cultural exhibition structures developed alongside this – without even considering the common phenomenon of occupying abandoned plants of the recent past as the site of art within a program of regeneration in the mainstream contemporary art context.
(Gillick 2016, p.108.)
‘Liam Gillick: The Commune Itself Becomes a Super State’, Artvehicle, no.13, 2007, http://www.artvehicle.com/events/144, accessed 22 April 2016.
Liam Gillick, Industry and Intelligence: Contemporary Art since 1820, Columbia 2016.
Supported by Christie’s.