Angus Fairhurst



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Not on display

Angus Fairhurst 1966–2008
Video, colour
Duration: 60min
Presented by the artist's estate 2011


Alternating/Coloured 2001 is an animation by the English artist Angus Fairhurst, displayed alongside the eight-work series Alternating 2001 (T14022–9). While the other eight works present moving torsos or upper legs against glowing backgrounds of monochrome colour, Alternating/Coloured has a composite figure with both male and female genitals spinning on a swivel chair. Composed of two lower halves facing in opposite directions and attached at the torso, the legs and chair change colour rapidly, cycling between blue, yellow and the background red.

Such abnormal anatomies appear in many of his films which describe a general descent into confusion. The rotation and metamorphosis of the confused figure suggest a continuum of shifting matter, identity and mood. They undergo repetitive transmutations, suspended in absurd yet curiously compelling cycles. Fairhurst also explored disjointed anatomies in constant flux in Things That Don’t Work Properly/Things That Never Stop 1998 (Tate T14018). By turns surreal, cartoonish and diagrammatic, Fairhurst’s animations also epitomise his offbeat humour as one that was often tinged with melancholy. The moving image was a natural medium for Fairhurst, given his interest in repetition and loops, and his videos extend the nature and concerns of his drawings, objects and installations in time.

Throughout his career, Fairhurst’s practice seemed to resist categorisation, with the artist often switching from one medium to another, including sculpture, painting, animation, photography, drawing and collage. His work has addressed the subject of the human condition and tackled fundamental issues such as the mystery of the self, the uncertainty of existence, and the constant desire to find meaning. The interplay of nature and artifice is also a recurring theme. Like the playwright Samuel Beckett, whose influence Fairhurst acknowledged (Muir and Wallis 2004, p.101), his use of repetition and the loop can be understood as a metaphor for what Fairhurst saw as the absurdity of life itself.

Fairhurst was closely associated with a generation of British artists who studied at Goldsmiths College in London in the 1980s and whose work came to prominence in the early 1990s. His work has connections with conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as with the appropriation strategies of artists such as Richard Prince in the 1980s – he rearranged culturally significant material, such as imagery from glossy magazines and advertisements, to change perceptions of a seemingly familiar world (see Tate P20288–90). It is partly for these reasons that he was also considered a key figure in a generation of artists that changed the character of contemporary British art.

Further reading
Gregor Muir and Clarrie Wallis, In-A-Gadda-da-Vida, exhibition catalogue, Tate, London 2004.
Sacha Craddoch and James Cahill, Angus Fairhurst, exhibition catalogue, Sadie Coles HQ, London 2009.

Clarrie Wallis
January 2011
Arthur Goodwin
December 2018

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