Psychedelic Soulstick is a sculpture by the Scottish artist Jim Lambie. The work is 960 mm in length and appears to be a straight stick or walking staff with irregular bulges along its extent, the entirety of which is wrapped tightly and densely in thin multicoloured threads in the manner of a ball of string. When exhibited, the work is propped against the gallery wall, unfixed to any pedestal or base, nor framed in any other way. As such, the freely leaning object appears unusually unstable for an exhibited work of art, and one that could easily be unbalanced or knocked to the floor by a passer-by. The threads wound around the object do not to conform to any clear pattern, yet the artist does appear to have paid careful attention to the concentration of different colours along the sculpture’s entire length. The bulges from the stick are ambiguous in shape, although possibly suggestive of aspects of the human body in their vague biomorphism. Only an accompanying caption to the sculpture on the gallery wall, indicating that ‘socks’ and ‘tape’ are constituent media in the construction of the work, enables viewers to infer what objects have been attached to the stick and have been concealed by the yards of threads wrapped around the sculpture.
Created in 1999 in the artist’s Glasgow studio, Psychedelic Soulstick is one of the earliest in an ongoing series of similarly titled works by Lambie that he began that same year. Subsequent instalments in the series are distinguished by the addition of numbers to the title, such as Psychedelic Soulstick (43) 2003 (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis). On occasion, the artist adopts a three-word format for the title, breaking the word ‘soulstick’ into its constituent syllables to form Psychedelic Soul Stick, although this distension of the title does not indicate any substantive difference in the conception or production of a given work. To construct each of the works in this group, Lambie affixes small objects connected to everyday life (such as cigarette boxes, guitar straps and socks) to a bamboo cane that is roughly 900 mm in length. He then tightly wraps the composite piece in colourful threads, and on occasion lengths of wire, until the object has the appearance of a long sewing bobbin of varying diameters, depending on the shape and arrangement of the objects that have been attached to the cane.
The title of the work refers at once to the hallucinatory nature of the sculpture’s multi-coloured appearance and to the ritualism with which the artist equates its construction. As Lambie stated in 2013, ‘I like the idea of this being almost like a prayer stick. The action of wrapping is a monotonous action that I repeat over and over again. You do find yourself emptying out [as you wrap]. It sets itself up as a religious relic, but it’s not.’ (Quoted in Li 2013, accessed 7 May 2015.)
Although Lambie denies that any denominationally religious motivations have shaped the inception of these sculptures, critics have proposed various cultural antecedents to the work. The curator and art critic Joan Rothfuss has argued that they bring together several types of object and their related social and cultural functions, including those associated with fine art, spirituality and popular music:
The form of the Soulsticks draws on a sculptural tradition that includes Richard Serra’s lead ‘props’ and the colored staffs made by French conceptual artist André Cadere. But perhaps the more telling allusion is to the shaman’s stick: an object used by traditional healers in many cultures as an aid in the journey from profane space to the spirit world. While he may be alluding to Joseph Beuys’ notion of the artist-as-shaman, Lambie brings it up-to-date: for members of his generation, deejays and musicians carry the Soulsticks, and the dance floor is one of the few places left where ecstatic self-expression is still possible.
(Rothfuss 2005, p.334.)
Joan Rothfuss, ‘Jim Lambie’, in Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter (eds.), Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, Minneapolis 2005, p.334.
Zoe Li, ‘Jim Lambie Gives Pearl Lam Gallery a Psychedelic Rock Makeover’, Blouin Artinfo, 18 April 2013, http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/892620/jim-lambie-gives-pearl-lam-gallery-a-psychedelic-rock-makeover#, accessed 7 May 2015.
Supported by Christie’s.