Affect Bridge Age Regression 2017–19 is an installation by the British artist Mark Leckey comprising four elements: a floor-based cast concrete scale-replica of a motorway bridge, a set of three wall-hung sodium lights, a billboard papered with twelve printed posters, and an audio soundtrack. The work was made on the occasion of Leckey’s solo exhibition at Cubitt Gallery, London in 2017 where it was shown in its entirety. The version now in Tate’s collection is a slight reconfiguration of that site-specific installation. Though the central elements remain the same, the number of sodium lights has been reduced, and the posters that were papered directly to the gallery walls have been reconfigured into a more robust billboard.
The title of the work, Affect Bridge Age Regression, refers to a technique used in hypnotherapy to associate recurrent bodily feelings back to their earliest memory – once brought back, the recollection can be vivified and events that are often stressful and laden with meaning may be understood. The bridge in the title has a dual meaning, referring both to this technique and to the form of the sculpture at the centre of the installation, a cast concrete scale-replica of a section of an actual motorway flyover bridge. The bridge is situated in Eastham Rake, in Leckey’s hometown of the Wirral in the North East of England, and was built in 1968, four years after he was born there. Leckey has commented that the flyover can be understood as part of then Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s vision of post-war Britain as ‘surging into the glorious horizon of the future’ (Leckey, quoted from his video work Exorcise the Bridge @ Eastham Rake 2017).
The motorway bridge at Eastham Rake is a recurring motif in Leckey’s work, first appearing in Dream English Kid, 1964–1999 AD 2015 (Tate T14666). A large-scale section of the bridge featured as a central element of his immersive installations He Thrusts his Fists Against the Posts but still Insists He Sees the Ghosts at Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen and Containers and Their Drivers, MoMA PS1, New York, both 2017. Affect Bridge Age Regression can also be understood as a direct precursor to Leckey’s solo exhibition at Tate Britain, O’ Magic Power of Bleakness, in 2019, for which a vast life-size replica of the same bridge was constructed as the set for an audio play.
The bridge is a symbolic space that represents a specific period of transition for Leckey. It was a place where he hung out with other local teenagers and believes he once had a paranormal encounter. By replicating the bridge down to the intricate detail of the graffiti scrawled at street level and the weeds sprouting from the pavement, Leckey has tapped into those teenage hours spent occupying this liminal space. On the significance of the bridge he has said:
Many of my works have their wellspring in things and experiences from my childhood and youth that still haunts me. The motorway bridge is one of those things that have settled in my memory. That is why I have recreated it. It is as if memories of this kind take on too much importance, too much room. They become too overwhelming.
(Leckey, quoted in programme for BMW Tate Live Exhibition: Ten Days Six Nights, Tate Modern, London 2018, p.23.)
The installation is lit by three sodium lights, the SOX lamps that were once commonly used in street lighting but have since been discontinued. These lamps have the effect of bathing the gallery in a distinctive monochromatic orange light which Leckey has used to create a specific atmosphere in a number of his solo exhibition and live performances. The colour of the light has the effect of rendering the space otherworldly, distinctly urban and toxic. Leckey has explained: ‘The Lucozade glow they give off was always an indicator that you were coming up on magic mushrooms, psychedelics would amplify that colour saturation, or rather that leaching out of all other colour. I want the lamps to do the same thing … put you in that altered state.’ (Quoted in Philomena Epps, ‘Artist Mark Leckey’s New Show is an Exorcism’, Dazed, 30 June 2017, https://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/36569/1/artist-mark-leckeys-new-show-is-an-exorcism, accessed 2 July 2019.)
The billboard papered in the manner of urban flyposting further establishes the sense of a city scene in this installation. There are twelve posters in total mounted on board. Three posters are a reproduction of the front page of The Sun newspaper from 11 August 1999. Describing his decision to reproduce this distinctive tabloid front page, Leckey explained that, ‘The Sun poster is from the eclipse of August 1999, an event which heralded both TEOTWAWKI [the end of the world as we know it] and a millenarian cleansing. I liked the juxtaposition of the masthead of The Sun with this giant black hole. I also thought it visually represented the void of morality at the heart of that paper. (Quoted in Epps 2017, accessed 2 July 2019.) The three reproductions of this front page are collaged alongside a number of other poster images: four posters for Dream English Kid; three blown-up details of a computer circuit board – a reference to the perceived threat of the millennial bug; and two posters of an absurdist scene in which a pack of Benson & Hedges cigarettes appears partially submerged in deep water. The overall effect of these juxtaposed image is one of apocalyptic anxiety at the turn of the millennium.
The three physical elements of the installation are brought together by an audio soundtrack that plays on a loop. The track is a recording of a chant that takes the form of an exorcism first performed and recorded when the work was installed in Cubitt Gallery, London in 2017, titled Exorcism of the Bridge @ Eastham Rake. The chanted sound piece was subsequently presented in a later iteration in collaboration with members of Tate Collective as part of BMW Tate Live Exhibition: Ten Days Six Nights in the Tanks at Tate Modern on 24 March 2018.
The collective ritual of shared exorcism captured by the recording reverberates through the space in which the work is installed. The chant references ‘Exorcising the Evil Spirits of the Pentagon’ by New York-based band The Fugs: a live recording of an anti-Vietnam war protest held in Washington DC in October 1967 where protestors, including the band, attempted to levitate the Pentagon off its foundations with chants of ‘Out Demons Out!’. Leckey’s version focuses on exorcising the demons and ‘bad vibrations’ of the bridge that still plague him to this day.
With these four elements Leckey has created a charged physical environment for the visitor to encounter. The work is representative of both Leckey’s approach to theatrical scene-setting and his relationship to the staging of ordinary physical objects. Curator Catherine Wood has described his approach to the art gallery as a collision point between two dimensions of perception or experience as, ‘a modern ritual based on close-up viewing of material-aesthetic objects under bright lights on the one hand; and the possibility of enhanced, spiritual communion on the other. It is a paradoxical place that mixes factuality and magic.’ (Catherine Wood in Tate Britain 2019, p.35.)
The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 2013.
Mark Leckey, exhibition catalogue, Verlag der Buchhandlung, Cologne 2014.
Catherine Wood (ed.), Mark Leckey, O’Magic Power of Bleakness, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London, 2019.
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