David Mach Postcard Piece 1985

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Artwork details

Artist
David Mach born 1956
Title
Postcard Piece
Date 1985
Medium Postcards on paper and photographs, colour, on paper on hardboard
Dimensions Support: 1525 x 1525 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by Carol and Neville Conrad 2001
Reference
T07767
Not on display

Summary

David Mach's Postcard Piece is a wall mounted collage depicting a turbulent sea scene. The image is built up from multiple layers of cheap tourist postcards and colour photographs stacked side ways on, often as much as twelve deep. They are arranged curving eddies to create an undulating surface that evokes water. The layers are held together by staples with the occasional screw and the work is mounted on a hardboard panel. Isolated in the midst of the wave-like surface is the tiny green figure of a fisherman about to catch the periscope of a surfacing submarine with his rod. The sides of the cards have faded over time so that the undulating surface is a yellow colour. The title, Postcard Piece, literally describes the materials that make up the collage. However, the title may also allude to the maritime subject of the work. The sea, with all its romantic connotations, is a common theme for tourist postcards. It is also possible that Postcard Piece refers to an earlier work, Polaris 1983 (reproduced in Livingstone, p.9). Polaris was Mach's large and ill-fated submarine made of tyres, that was burnt down when installed outside the Hayward Gallery, London during the exhibition British Sculpture 83.

During the early 1980s Mach became well known for temporary, site specific sculptures of instantly recognisable, everyday objects and vehicles such as cars, trains or submarines. The sculptures were constructed out of vast quantities of stacked and layered, identical mass-produced objects such as unused magazines, books, tyres and, in the case of Thinking of England 1983 (Tate T04858), glass bottles. For instance, at his Royal College of Art degree show in 1982, Mach exhibited Silver Cloud III (reproduced in Livingstone, p.6), a Rolls-Royce constructed out of 15,000 books. In the same show he exhibited a replica Eiffel Tower made from copies of the Time Out Guide To Paris (reproduced in Livingstone, p.7), while Polaris, the sculpture commissioned for British Sculpture 83 at the Hayward Gallery, was a submarine constructed out of thousands of car tyres. Mach's use of mass-produced objects differs to that of his contemporaries such as British sculptors Bill Woodrow (born 1948) and Tony Cragg (born 1949), who employed discarded consumer goods to comment on the built-in obsolescence of machine-made consumer items. However, the mountainous piles of objects in Mach's installations were unused, having been donated by manufacturers because they were surplus stock. His work thus alludes to notorious examples of over-production at the time, such as the EC butter mountain, and comments upon over-consumption in Western society.

Postcard Piece is a transitional work. Mach employed the stacking and layering technique he had used since the early 1980s, but the scale and subject matter have changed. Postcard Piece is a small, wall mounted collage of a narrative scene. It thus differs to earlier sculptures that depicted recognisable, everyday objects, their large size pointing to the heroic endeavour associated with public sculpture. It also reflects a growing fascination with water, lava and smoke. Works such as Polaris and Silver Cloud III represented cars and submarines, inorganic objects whose forms remain stable. However, while making object-based sculptures, he noticed the liquid-like properties of the magazines he was using: stacked in piles, the glossy journals evoked torrents of water or lava flows. As a result he started experimenting with the depiction of fluid, mercurial substances. The undulating surfaces of Postcard Piece were early products of such experimentation. The following year he filled the ground floor of Riverside Studios, London with the installation Fuel For The Fire 1986 (reproduced Livingstone, pp.21-2). Magazines were stacked to resemble clouds of smoke billowing out of a marble chimney breast. Suspended in what looked like a lava flow of magazines were half submerged objects: a sofa, a mirror, a television and even an upright piano. In such works Mach's humorous critique of consumer desire and overproduction took on a new twist. Pouring from an invisible space within the building, the torrent appears to be taking the gallery over, suggesting some nightmarish, comical scenario in which hidden surpluses burst forth carrying all obstacles in their wake.

Further Reading:
Marco Livingstone, David Mach, Kyoto 1990
Emily Ash, David Mach: Likeness Guaranteed, London 1995
David Cassidy, David Mach at the Zamek Ujazdowskie, Tokyo 1995

Imogen Cornwall-Jones
February 2002

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