Bruce Lacey

Boy, Oh Boy, am I Living!


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Not on display

Bruce Lacey 1927–2016
2 prosthetic legs, 2 prosthetic arms, metal cylinder, plastic ball, glass eyes, motor, metal frame, wooden crate and other materials
Object: 1993 × 1500 × 445 mm
Purchased 1976

Catalogue entry

T02023 BOY, OH BOY, AM I LIVING! 1964

Inscribed ‘Bruce Lacey’ and ‘1964’ on embossed metal strip on front side of wooden box
Wood, metals, plastic, canvas, leather, with electric motor, in metal frame, 78 1/4×59×15 (198.2×150×38.1)
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1976
Exh: Bruce Lacey, Marlborough New London Gallery, January 1965 (1 repr.); Exhibition of Assemblages, Fairfield Hall, Croydon, July 1965 (no catalogue); An Exhibition of Humanoids and Constructions, Arts Council Gallery, Cardiff, April–May 1967 (1, repr. and cover); Bruce Lacey, 40 Years of Assemblages, Environments and Robots, Whitechapel Art Gallery, February–April 1975 (16, repr.); Manifestations of the Obsessions and Fantasies of Bruce Lacey and Jill Bruce, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, May–June 1975 (16, repr.)
Repr: ‘Spare Part Surgery’ in Hospital World, October 1965

‘Boy, Oh Boy, am I Living!’ was made in the artist's workshed at Bounds Green, Muswell Hill, London at the same time as a series of works which were first exhibited at the Marlborough New London Gallery in 1965. The work was constructed partially from objects already in the artist's possession, and partially from objects specially sought after. The component limbs of the humanoid figure were made from discarded artificial legs and arms obtained from the Limb Fitting Centre at Roehampton, with permission from the Department of Health and Social Security. Permission was only granted on the assurance that they would form part of a serious work of art. The head utilises a plastic globe from a Belisha beacon obtained in Holland, as it is more orange than the British version. The mouth is made from a dentist's tooth selection chart, used to match the correct colour for dentures. Various small parts have had to be replaced since it was first constructed, because of pilfering during exhibition, including the eyes, spectacles, nose, mouth, pulley and electronic ‘implant’ on the side of the head. Lacey had to search to find the water geyser which forms the trunk of the figure, and this was used in a similar way to that forming the trunk of ‘We'll make a new man of him’, a humanoid constructed in 1963.

After leaving the Royal College of Art in 1954, Bruce Lacey had within two years given up painting, and was concentrating on performance work. This varied between cabaret, television and films and included performing and constructing special effects. In 1962 he made his first assemblage sculpture for the window of the Portal Gallery, and between 1962 and 1963, while performing at the Establishment Club, Lacey made two humanoids which appeared on stage as part of the performance entitled ‘An evening of British rubbish’. In June 1963, sixteen ‘automata and humanoids’ were exhibited at Gallery One. Lacey was spurred to exhibit his constructions after seeing the exhibition of work by Kurt Schwitters, which included many collages, at the Marlborough Gallery in March and April 1963. Previously he had been uncertain whether such everyday scraps could be exhibited as art, and in these works he was keen to use ‘real’ objects rather than to cast in bronze or transmute the objects in any way. At this time the artist obtained a quantity of key-clamp metal tubing and was thus able to provide a physical framework for building each work, without having to rely on gluing each individual part. After making ‘Boy, Oh Boy, am I Living!’ where the figure is held in by this frame, he progressed to making such works as ‘The Institution’ where an old person appears to be living in a coffin-like box, and then ‘The Living Room’ where part of a room was reconstructed in the gallery.

The idea for this work came from current developments in ‘Spare Part Surgery’. In 1964 it was becoming apparent that doctors and surgeons might be able to replace every section of the human anatomy with artificial substitutes. Experiments with electrode implants into the brain implied that the actions and thoughts of individuals might in the future be remote-controlled. Lacey wished to express his fears about the creation of robot-like humans. He gave the ironic title ‘Boy, Oh Boy, am I Living!’ to emphasise that this society might induce individuals to imagine that they were enjoying life-here we see the humanoid man apparently pleased that he is allowed to move one of his legs when we can see that he is completely caged in. All Lacey's automata and humanoid sculptures of this time used ironic titles and imagery. He saw his works as ‘hate, love or fear’ objects expressing his own hates, loves and fears. He has said that he intended his work to be psychologically therapeutic for himself rather than for the aesthetic appreciation of others. ‘Art shouldn't just be stimulating man intellectually or emotionally, like a love potion or a panacea for purely aesthetic motives. It should instead be awakening his conscience and his awareness of life as it is and what it is going to be, as we move forward to a frightening future, where man's very individuality and personality may be lost’. (catalogue of exhibition at Arts Council Gallery, Cardiff, 1967). In making the works, Lacey tried not to make aesthetic decisions about the disposition of parts, but to allow the materials necessary for a particular image to dictate the lay-out of a particular sculpture.

After the exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery in 1965, Lacey decided to make ‘active’ rather than ‘passive’ works. He had found that he had to spend too much time explaining the works in the exhibition. Thus he developed the use of automata in his performances, started to build his first robots and was able to substitute these for actors in performances. His work then progressed to making a series of environments, where the spectator experienced the work from inside, and he put less emphasis on the exhibition of his constructions. Since 1974, for some of his performance art work, made in collaboration with his second wife Jill Bruce, he has created another form of ‘machine’ with the lighting and special effects systems which he builds and then operates as part of the performance.

The information for this catalogue entry was obtained from an interview with the artist (4 March 1977) and a letter (13 March 1977), and has been approved by him.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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