Steven Claydon

Fugitive from Substance


Not on display

Steven Claydon born 1969
Aluminium, rope, plastic bag, brass, buckram and wood
Object: 1580 × 300 × 325 mm
Purchased 2010


Fugitive from Substance is a double-faced portrait of British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist Alfred Wallace (1823–1913) who worked with Charles Darwin (1809–1882) on the theory of evolution. The bearded Wallace looks forward at the future as himself, and backwards at the past as a dispenser for string, a thick blue cord protruding from his lips. A metal handle protrudes from either side of his head, adding to this rather peculiar utilitarian aspect. The piece is made of aluminium but has been painted with a red oxide pigment to give it the appearance of clay. The artist has explained that he felt attracted to use aluminium because ‘it’s the most abundant [metal] on earth; it’s almost the least venerable material you could use in terms of metal because it’s quite corrosive, universal and it probably wouldn’t stand the test of time’ (Claydon in International Project Space 2008, p.8). Even so, it is only relatively recently that the machinery to extract aluminium has made it available to a larger consumer group. In the past, it was only for the wealthy and sometimes considered even more precious than gold or silver. As with many of Claydon’s busts, this work is displayed on a hessian plinth. The artist has described his intention in this work as ‘to highlight the way people fictionalise, mythologise or create taxonomies of importance, venerability and status with the people these sculptures portray’ (Claydon in International Project Space 2008, p.8).

Claydon draws attention to the fact that culture can be manipulated by those who exert control over it, often highlighting an artwork’s institutional framing conditions and the fact that art acquires a historical value when it enters the museum. In doing so, he questions the idealist concept of art, the classificatory systems imposed upon it and the construction of a cultural history to contain it – all of which were reinforced by the institution of the museum as it developed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Instead of forcing knowledge into a continuous chronological development, presenting a set image of the past, Claydon aims to establish an engagement with history which is relevant to his own context. He has commented:

I want to make clear that there are always multiple fugitive trajectories that ignite from an object, and to try and make any reading is laudable but flawed. It’s an impossible situation, so I think that by trying to make connections that might be extremely cursory, but which at the same time are extremely well researched and loaded, and which have some historical precedence, does more or less the same thing. It’s about creating equivalence. I want to create an equivalence where perhaps there is none, or in order to ask a question whether it matters if I’m creating or posing a connection, and how that affects anything in the world; the connection might appear to exist anyway, regardless of things considered in the public arena, or in the gallery. It really starts to affect every aspect of culture.
(Claydon in International Project Space 2008, p.18.)

Further reading
Catherine Wood, ‘Steve Claydon’, Frieze, no.93, September 2005, pp.152–3.
Steven Claydon: The Ancient Set, exhibition catalogue, International Project Space, Birmingham 2008.

Carmen Juliá
June 2010

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