John Squire – Heavy Metal Semantics, viewed 03/02/09

24 Jun

The ArsenalvCardiff match was postponed, but I decided to still make the trip to London nonetheless. This was due in part to the fact that I had a single train ticket from London to Cardiff which I needed to collect from Paddington. Unless I collected this ticket, I would not be able to get a refund, which of course required a trip to London…well, rather than dwell on this conundrum, I thought, what the hell, I’ll go anyway.

There were, after all, 2 further reasons I wanted to be in London on this day (three if witnessing London’s “snow event” counted) – former Square contributor, John Mouse, was playing a gig there that night, and John Squire’s latest exhibition was being shown at the rather plush St. Martin’s Hotel. Turned out I’d chosen a good day to visit as his charming agent was on hand to supervise.

This exhibition is one of metal sculptures. Predominantly, they show a flattened or partly flattened form of a box or container. I confess to feeling that I didn’t have much to say about this one. Erm…some were shinier than others…?

The idea of exhibiting packaging, or displaying what could be packaging as if it were the art itself is of course not a new idea. Perhaps it brings to mind a child who plays with the box rather than the present contained inside, or a collector of Star Wars figures who is also pretty fixated about the packs.

Ultimately of course, boxes of packaging have a limited function, and this exhibition felt similarly utilitarian. Additionally, whereas most people who use packaging as art would use humour, Squire’s work does not.

Each piece is fairly rigid – it doesn’t look pliable, like real packaging, particularly given the fact each is made of metal. Woman is a single sheet, with the word woman branded on it repeatedly, which might imply being obsessive about women, or a particular woman. Man on the other hand is one of the flattened box pieces, implying that the woman could either cover or “wrap up” the man, or in fact perhaps be folded up and contained inside the man. The fact that, as mentioned, neither piece looks very supple, might mean that perhaps they are meant to be viewed as cold, separate pieces, with no intention of any interaction.

Of course, there are layers of deceit in the works. Just as it is difficult to say how a flattened metal box, or a sheet of metal might “represent” a man or woman, at the same time, we are of course being fooled into thinking that what we are looking at is indeed a flattened metal box. It isn’t of course – as a work of art, it was never made to be a box, just to look like one, and this deception is achieved successfully.

Exactly what tools Squire used, I’m not sure, but he has clearly learned to manipulate metal well. So often was Second Coming described as the album that “proved” Squire could play guitar (as if there is not enough evidence of his skill on the debut album), perhaps here he is showing that despite being untrained, he has become, with this metal work, artist/craftsman.

A lot of these thoughts came afterwards – I didn’t feel that inspired at the time – and whether anything I’ve mentioned was intended by the artist, I have no idea. Again, for what they are – smallish pieces of metal – I would say the works are too expensive. I wonder if without all the associated fees they could have been put on sale for less than half the average price of £4000.

The majority of Squire fans who do not have megabucks might still have enjoyed a visit to this latest exhibition though. As it was his first exhibition of sculpture, as far as I know, it was interesting for that reason, and again demonstrates his versatility.

Footnote: Coming back on the train, I spotted a small l shiny red object on the floor in front of me. I picked it up, and it appeared to be some kind of red tablet, with N400 inscribed on it. I decided to try and bite into it, and the taste was incredibly bitter – it actually stung my throat, almost like poison. Anyway, on my return, I googled N400, and discovered that it was probably a Wobenzym tablet, which is an antiinflamatory. However, curiously, I also discovered on Wikipedia that an N400 is a “response often elicited by semantically inappropriate words in an otherwise acceptable sentential context”, such as the response you might get if you said something like “Women like shopping for shoes and porcupines”. Somehow this seemed relevant to the exhibition.

This article first appeared in Issue 4 (aka “Cool”) of Square Magazine.