Ska’s Not Dead consists of a record deck encrusted with bright purple glitter, which is affixed on its side to the gallery wall so that the turntable faces up, and a worn leather glove that dangles from the base of the deck by a knotted piece of wire. Four lines of interlocking safety pins, attached to the glove’s four fingers, are threaded with enamel beads in green, yellow, blue and red, which add weight, texture and colour to the pendulum-like appendage. The sculpture belongs to a series of works made by the Scottish artist Jim Lambie between 1999 and 2001 that comprise turntables dusted, or sometimes caked in glitter from which various fashion accessories are suspended (see, for example, Let It Bleed 2001, British Council Collection, http://visualarts.britishcouncil.org/collection/artists/lambie-jim-1964/object/let-it-bleed-lambie-2001-p7450, accessed 12 June 2014). The title of the work, along with the record deck, makes reference to ska, a form of Jamaican popular dance music that was adopted by British bands in the 1970s.
Like many of Lambie’s works from this period, Ska’s Not Dead combines references to the history and paraphernalia of music with a DIY aesthetic. Safety pins, buttons and beads, while used by many different people to decorate or modify clothes and accessories, are strongly associated with the British punk scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which was also highly influenced by ska, a form of Jamaican popular dance music that was adopted by British bands. Despite the work’s title, which asserts that the cultural moment characterised by ska is still current, the now outmoded record deck and its kitsch colouring situate the assemblage in the recent past, and to a time in one’s life preoccupied by dressing up and dancing. In this respect, the detritus of music and fashion are both the form and subject of the work: like a musician or a DJ, Lambie’s mixes together different objects to create symbolic associations that bring new meaning to each constituent part.
Before choosing to study at Glasgow School of Art, where he would graduate from its Department of Environmental Media in 1994, Lambie flirted with the idea of becoming a rockstar, and played the vibraphone for the Glaswegian group The Boy Hairdressers, an early incarnation of Teenage Fanclub. His interest in music had a bearing on the work he subsequently made as an artist, and for his first solo exhibition, Voidoid at Transmission Gallery, Glasgow, in 1999, he produced a 7” record sampling KC and the Sunshine Band mixed with Jesus and Mary Chain. His later work, including Ska’s Not Dead, is concerned with the materiality and symbolism of found objects and, according to the critic Michael Bracewell, demonstrates Lambie’s ability to reorient ‘the potency of pop styling to the formal structures of art’ (Bracewell 2004 p.5). Bracewell has argued that Lambie and his fellow Glasgow School of Art peers, including Christine Borland and Douglas Gordon, belong to a ‘trans-media’ generation, intent on playing with ‘notions of amateurism, DIY low-fi aesthetics, intuition, narrative, and importantly, the history and mythology of popular music’ (Bracewell 2004, p.11). In 2007, in a discussion of the relationship between music and his work, Lambie himself insisted that ‘the music thing just bled through what I’m surrounded by ... I buy records all the time and collect glam rock 7” picture sleeves ... But I never start a piece of work thinking that I’m going to try and describe music. I’m trying to make a sculpture’ (Jim Lambie in ‘Subway Sect: Andrew Innes and Jim Lambie in Conversation’, Creative Review Blog, 19 December 2007, http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2007/december/subway-ect-andrew-innes-and-jim-lambie-in-conversation, accessed 12 June 2014).
Ross Sinclair, ‘Jim Lambie: Transmission Gallery’, frieze, no.46, May 1999, http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/jim_lambie/, accessed 12 June 2014.
Alex Farquharson, ‘Jim Lambie: Drastic Plastic’, frieze, no.68, June–August 2002, http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/drastic_plastic/, accessed 12 June 2014.
Michael Bracewell, Jim Lambie: Male Stripper, exhibition catalogue, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford 2004.
Supported by Christie’s.