Taxonomical Musings

The British Art Show 1990 brought together in a coherent and solid manner, the major emerging artists of that period who were to manifest into the phenomenon we now refer to as the ‘YBA’ (Young British Artist). It is from this show that John Mitchell, along with the likes of Ian Davenport, Grenville Davey, Gary Hume, Julian Opie, Cornelia Parker & Rachel Whiteread (amongst others), exhibited a radical testing of artistic boundaries, employing un-traditional materials, eschewing the ‘use value’ of objects and irreverently questioning the notion of the art object in our internet, post-industrial age. The recent work by John Mitchell develops these earlier themes of collecting, selecting, and ‘salvaging’ high and low art materials to open up fissures of new meanings and interpretations. The transformation of the original functions of materials and language has the potential to subvert accepted understandings, interpretations and associations.

The exhibition title ‘Taxonomical Musings’ gives some indication to his direction now. Beyond salvaging materials, in the recent works he appropriates and manipulates second-hand objects into groups. These groups are in turn presented as possible categories, families or genres when in fact they have been randomly assembled and then edited by type or simply form (‘Taxonomical Musings’ 2009, upper gallery). In doing so their previous histories adopt surrogate values and new implications. The context of these groupings, by taking so called ‘low’ art objects which have collectability in their own right, and suggesting they have new value in a ‘high art’ setting, challenges once again the boundary of acceptable practice. Immediately one is reminded of ‘kitsch’ and Walter Benjamin’s famous essay, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, which explored the role of cultural objects and the division of audiences which consumed fine art works and mass produced cultural objects such as cinema, reproductions (such as Michelangelo’s David) and pop music etc.

Chris Westbrook
Taxonomical Musings