Lucy Edkins exhibition, Housmans bookshop

IssueJune 2008
Review by Emily Johns

Lucy Edkins’ paintings are naked, painful suffering images of our fellow men.

They are hanging high up on the walls of Housmans Bookshop – in traditional art jargon they have been “skied” by the primacy of books. But this very inaccessibility that me think of church paintings and then of mediaeval images of “The Passion”.

Lucy Edkins has created a series of paintings of Guantanamo, of men crouching and twisting from their torturers; flinching from the soldiers with their guns and dogs and boots; accusing the British and American people of complacency as their bodies and minds are ritualistically destroyed. There is an “official” war artist, Steve McQueen, who was sent out to Iraq for six days. He was not actually allowed out of the British army base because of the danger. Which he found frustrating, he later reported.

On his return he was unable to find inspiration to complete his commission. He was finally inspired when he put a postage stamp on his tax return - not to withhold tax from funding wars, but to design postage stamps that commemorated dead British soldiers. He said: “It is not pro- or anti-war. This work is like a sphere - roll it this way, roll it that way. In the end, it is an art work.”
In 1991, I was in the same tutor group at art school with Steve McQueen, and I think he asked me: “But what’s the war got to do with you?” This was Goldsmiths’ post-modern detachment. This man is a war profiteer – certainly in financial terms but much more importantly, spiritually, and culturally.

This is the psychic equivalent of making lampshades out of human skin. It is the casual appropriation of images of tragedy and annihilation by artists who make but don’t feel; artists who are separate from the world and look upon it distantly through the glass, through the picture plane. But it is not a condition of being an artist that has caused this detachment, because Lucy Edkins brings us right up as close as you can get to emotional identification with the tortured and then points straight to the political causes – that solid shadow that stretches its claws into our futures, the “war on terror”.

Her naked men and her orange suited men draw us to experience their “passion” but they do not suffer for us or to redeem us but despite us. The power of these little acrylics causes us to shake in the heart and to want to act to stop the subject matter, Guantanamo and extraordinary renditions from existing.

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