Review: Mark Leckey and Martin McGeown – The Life and Times of Milton Keynes Gallery

Image courtesy Milton Keynes Gallery

Exhibition: Mark Leckey and Martin McGeown: Life and Times of Milton Keynes Gallery, Milton Keynes Gallery, Milton Keynes, until June 27 2010

900 Midsummer Boulevard does not sound like an address for a provincial English gallery. But then again, Milton Keynes is not just any other provincial English town.

Conceived as a utopia, it is often perceived as the very opposite. The twists and turns of a more organic settlement have all been ironed out by a super-rational grid system.

Town planners have considered the needs of their citizens and their citizens’ cars in almost every respect. Here is the office. Here is the shopping mall. And there is the cultural quarter, in which sits a purpose built white cube gallery.

Milton Keynes Gallery is now ten years old and the current show is a trip down memory lane, which is most certainly not the name of a nearby street.

Mark Leckey and Martin McGeown, Turner Prize-winning artist and Director of Cabinet Gallery, London, have sifted through the archives to present an impersonal portrait of “a classic British institution”, as the voiceover on one of their films has it.

These films, compiled of found materials, consist largely of still photographs with occasional flourishes of animation. The scripts are plundered from gallery literature, cut up and repasted together, then voiced by a computer.

“The machine is a programme and it makes all the decisions,” it intones, as the text veers between sense and nonsense. Despite the layers of mediation, the bleak voice that emerges has all the gravity of TS Eliot’s modernist classic The Wasteland.

Elsewhere the curatorial team have put another layer between them and the work by commissioning cartoonist Lee Healey to illustrate the history of the gallery according to a set of their prompts. The results are darkly funny.

Green screen technology is used to project a rotating model of the gallery onto a slideshow of photographs from the archives. Artworks and architectural plans convey a wealth of associations accumulated in ten short years.

The pink model shimmers at the edges with a holographic quality, as if a mirage. But the full workings of this trick are exposed as we can also see the green plinth, camera, spotlights and projector which makes the entire institution float in mid air before us.

So two galleries spin side by side, one real, and one a projected image. In the making of this show Leckey and McGeown have been careful to let you see both.

Written for Culture24.

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