Art exhibit ‘shows nation in midst of communal nervous breakdown’

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  • Giles Walker
    Canadian film director

A contemporary art exhibit made from scrap materials plays out “the insecurities and pain of a nation in the midst of a communal nervous breakdown”, its creator has said.

The installation Monster, which has opened in Leeds and features high-heeled shoes, lampshades and prams, took three years to make.

Artist Giles Walker has been creating sculptures for 27 years and focused this exhibit on issues he thinks are particularly important in Britain.

He said: “Monster started with the idea of building a piece that played out the insecurities and pain of a nation in the midst of a communal nervous breakdown.”

Mr Walker described how the piece evolved, starting out as a vague idea but ending up being about Britain specifically: “It developed into looking at the relationship between the general public and the establishment.

“This seems to be a good time to show it, with the current Government exposing itself.”

Monster was first shown in London, at The Truman Stables, in 2020, but made its North of England debut at Left Bank Leeds on Thursday, and will remain until January 29.

One element of the exhibit is the figures’ dry coughs but “the pandemic was never a theme” of the piece, Mr Walker said.

However, Monster was first shown during the pandemic and Mr Walker said it took the exhibit in a new direction.

Artist Giles Walker with his installation
Artist Giles Walker with his installation (Danny Lawson/PA)

“I built it before the pandemic and assimilated it to ill-health,” he said.

“I have these animatronic figures, and they cough throughout the piece. By the time it was first shown, the coughing had taken on a wholly different significance.”

Visitors can walk in and around the sculptures with an accompanying soundtrack by Paul Hartnoll from electronic duo Orbital.

The soundtrack incorporates dialogue about important issues in Britain, including the political landscape and the treatment of refugees.

Mr Walker said: “How a country looks after its refugees reflects on the nation.

“I also sample different interviews, and one is from Prince Andrew, which is taking on a new life now because of the recent court case.

“The piece is inherently political and is intended to provoke, captivate and disturb, and I hope that the people of Leeds leave feeling more intrigued than when they arrived.”

Monster by Giles Walker
The installation is accompanied by a soundtrack (Danny Lawson/PA)

Left Bank Leeds is a Grade II listed former church in Burley. This was intentional, according to the artist.

“It’s the most amazing building, and it adds to it being in a church because one of the figures is a priest as, obviously, the Church is a part of the Establishment,” Mr Walker said.

“The fact that the church is now being used for community-minded projects instead of worship is really interesting.”

The show takes place after dark and is free to book.

Visitors are encouraged to make a donation which goes to the Refugee Community Kitchen, which serves food to those fleeing war, poverty, persecution and the effects of climate change.

Mr Walker spoke about the choice of charity, adding: “A lot of people I have worked with in the past, and the background I come from, are running it, and I want to support them.”

Sue Jennings, director at Left Bank Leeds, said: “After reopening earlier in the year with ‘Heaven’, which was positive and joyful, we felt it was time to show a different string to our bow and showcase work that is the total opposite: haunting, dystopian and filled with horror.”

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