Wednesday, 27 March 2013

David McLeavy: Building a Show Home

Image by David McLeavy

On a bitterly cold morning in March, I braved the snow and made my first trip to S1 Studios to meet Sheffield based artist David McLeavy and find out what he has planned for his solo show Villa that opens at South Square Gallery next month.

Villa takes as its point of departure the notion of the holiday or show home, the title derived from Swiss architect Le Corbusier’s utopian ‘machine for living, the Villa Savoye in France. The show continually references Le Corbusier’s Villa as David too creates a domestic environment in the countryside, this time that of the fields and valleys of Thornton.

Although highly influenced by the work of the European Modernist architects and furniture makers, his inspirations also lie much closer to home. As I walk into his studio I immediately spy a copy of the John Lewis home and furniture catalogue which he is quick to refer me to when telling me his aims.

David’s interest in blurring the boundaries between gallery and living space was piqued by visiting the 2012 Arts Council British Modern Remade exhibition held in the refurbished show flats at Sheffield’s Park Hill estate. In their aesthetic beauty, behind which lie deep seated flaws, the Park Hill flats embody something of the allure and horror of European Modernism, which so interests David.

As he says to me, “the show flats at Park Hill are highly attractive to the viewer, yet almost immediately you start to notice the practical problems of living there, such as of where the kettle can go or where to hang out your laundry”. As with Le Corbusier, Park Hill’s utopian vision of ‘streets in the sky’ soon comes crashing down.

South Square Gallery’s history as a series of stonemasons’ cottages makes it the perfect space for David to explore ideas of interacting with the domestic space further. Unlike the homogenous ‘white cube’ gallery, South Square retains original stone fireplaces, wooden ceiling beams and  windows looking out on the beautiful Thornton countryside, all architectural features, David wants to celebrate in his exhibition. 
The gallery also possesses a tradition of attracting artists to produce work engaging with their experience and interaction of being in the gallery space. David refers me to Dominic Mason, whose 2012 residency at South Square involved him living in the gallery space, something that clearly fascinates David.

The long held conflict in design between individualism and mass production is an important concern to David. Many of the items to be presented in the show home take the appearance of mass produced items, referencing the popular ‘flat pack’ furniture of stores such as IKEA. However David has actually tirelessly built them in the workshop himself.
Studio View 1
 Likewise, he has transformed the beautiful sourced pastel vases into sculptures in their own right, decorating them with intricate parts from household objects such as chopping boards.
Studio View 2

David closely engages with the performance based nature of consumerism. In his studio sits a shelf of bright colourful shirts. The exhibition will feature guest performers carrying out the mundane task of regimentally folding these shirts. This is not merely a reference to the domestic interior but also to the retail world. David refers me to shops of startling aesthetic beauty, such as Abercrombie and Fitch, where we are constantly confronted with glamorous retail assistants monotonously folding clothes into exact piles. Like the show home, the retail world draws us in to its apparent perfection. However, just as swiftly is the fa├žade shattered: as we pick up a shirt to examine it closer and carelessly return it to the pile, so we break the spell of the fragile beauty of this retail art form.
Studio View 3

Whilst creating a model show home, David nonetheless self-consciously questions the very ideology he is buying into. As he says to me, the show home is one that implies a certain social class and hierarchy from the decorative accessories and ornamentation on display. David’s intention is to playful question this hierarchy in curating the show. “Imagine placing Heat magazine next to Le Corbusier’s Toward an Architecture he muses to me.

Further questioning of this will gradually appear through the various redecorations the show will receive as Visual Arts students from local colleges are invited to participate in re-curating the show. Control is taken out of the hands of the artist, creating a new exhibition, whilst self-consciously drawing attention to the curatorial process.

Villa is open to the public from 6 April until 26 May 2013.

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