26 January 2015

David Shrigley and existentialism at NGV

Words: Saskia Edwards
Images: Jonathan Rae
Original Artwork: David Shrigley

A sculpture of a naked man that intermittently blinks and then urinates into a bucket is hardly the image that springs to mind when thinking of existentialism.

While David Shrigley’s works may not fit the classic manifestation of existentialism - think Kafka and Nietzsche - they do force an inner contemplation of life.

Or more, they confront you with the banality of human existence.

It’s hard to look at Shrigley’s works without feeling a sense of humourous nihilism.

His current exhibition at NGV includes drawings, paintings, sculpture, animated videos and artist books.

NGV Director Tony Ellwood said: “David Shrigley is one of contemporary art’s most unique conceptual artists; his works are renowned for their humour and ability to convey in stark black and white the most complex as well as trivial moments of human experience.

David Shrigley: Life and Life Drawing is the artist’s first comprehensive Australian exhibition and is sure to delight his avid fans in Melbourne and beyond.”

Shrigley’s exhibition at NGV also includes a two tonne clay sausage that’s gradually becoming arid and cracked over the course of the display. The installation looks like intestines wormed around each other. Perhaps it’s a comment on the matter of our bodies - that while each of us see some divinity within ourselves we’re really just flesh and bones. 

But there’s some relief in knowing this. And seemingly that’s where the humour lies. Ultimately, we’re just irrelevant beings with a meaningless existence all destined for the same fate. But it releases the pressure of making something out of everything - it leaves you free to enjoy life for what it is.

As Adrian Searle said: “Shrigley’s work is very wrong and very bad in all sorts of ways.“It is also ubiquitous and compelling.

“There are lots of artists who, furrowing their brows and trying to convince us of their seriousness, aren’t half as profound or compelling.” 

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