Tim Shaw’s exhibition Fag An Bealach in Irish means ‘Clear The Way’. He is a sculptor who has shown in San Diego, California and had a year long residency in Bonn, Germany, which is probably why the Breakdown Clown, an animatronic large figure which one encounters here, speaks some words in German.
It’s quite a scary experience to meet this large personage, described in the gallery notes as androgynous but appearing to me as male, deep voiced and with moving eyes. Would he suddenly strike out with his arms or lurch forward more than the few inches that he does as he addresses the room with a melancholy and menacing impact, intoning about the purpose of life, about being a shape-shifter and inviting a response?
I was told at the preview this figure reacted to visitors but it was not working as well by the second day. It’s made of some probably ecologically unsound polystyrene-like material and unattractively naked, except instead of genitals it has a curious curved crescent appendage. It calls itself a clown and strangely says that we never left the garden of Eden. It’s a menacing figure: the machine workings are partly visible and yet it still seems lonely and grim. The meaning is ambiguous.
On the next floor up are two smooth blue bronze heads – the same but one small facing one larger. They are accordingly priced by size at £6,500 and £50,000. There are also figures based on Northern. Irish Mummers that the artist has seen perform, now in safer times than when as a child Tim Shaw experienced a bomb going off in a cafe.
He later made Mother The Air Is Blue; The Air Is Dangerous – an installation shown at The Exchange, Penzance, a few years ago which was very powerful as the viewer was plunged into the experience using moving images. That piece had a reality and impact not matched by this show, in which Tim Shaw uses mythic figures and refers to shamanic ritual, which must mean a lot to him but is not part of most folks’ way of dealing with the modern world. In Cornwall we do have continuing traditions such as Montol, the meaning of which was once part of society; though today our reconstructions are more enthusiastic gestures to a mysterious past set of beliefs than rituals used to deal with present crises.
On the top floor another large figure stands in the middle of a circle of charred wood which on its own would resemble a Richard Long. This piece is this artist’s way of responding to Gilbert and George’s recent cursing of the Royal Academy, of which Tim Shaw is a member, when their latest work was rejected. Plans are to burn Shaw’s wooden construction at the end of the show – at an outdoor location. Tim Shaw lives in Cornwall and here we get a rare opportunity to see premiered the work of a local internationally known artist.
I respect his intention to deal with serious contemporary issues but I find the results, although memorable and thought provoking, rather sidetracked by his love of archetypal symbols that are outrageously out of tune with contemporary life and that I find are ultimately taking refuge in grotesque imaginings.
Fag An Bealach , at Anima Mundi, St Ives, Cornwall. February 18 to April 4th 2022