Creating the Dumb Things Gallery Guide by Sandy Jones

Mark Leckey's Felix the Cat at De La Warr Pavilion

What do a ten metre high inflatable Felix the cat, William Blake’s ‘Ghost of a flea’, a replica Sputnik satellite and a singing gargoyle have in common? They are all part of ‘The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things’, an exhibition at Bexhill’s De la War Pavilion curated by Turner prize-winning artist Mark Leckey. The exhibition is part of the Hayward Touring programme that brings exhibitions to over 100 museums and publicly funded venues in Britain every year. his summer, I was fortunate to work with the DLWP on the gallery guide for this thought provoking

The De La Warr Pavilion is a contemporary art gallery and live performance venue situated on the seafront at Bexhill. Designed in 1935 by architects Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, the Grade One listed historical building remains an icon of Modernist architecture and a celebration of the International Style. Described by Mendelsohn as a ‘horizontal skyscraper’, the building was restored and redeveloped between 2003-2005 with funding from the Arts Council Lottery Fund. Rather than house a permanent collection, the DLWP flexes its spaces to support a dynamic programme of art and performance, showcasing experimental and inter-disciplinary works from emerging artists and big names like Andy Warhol and Antony Gormley.

The gallery guide project came about after I wrote to the DLWP to ask whether they had any volunteering opportunities over the summer. They wrote back saying they needed some support with the guide and as I’d worked in design before, they thought my experience would be helpful. Before I met their curator, David, I carried out some research and discovered that the exhibition was inspired by the concept of techno-animism, ‘the idea that everything that is in (and of) this earth is being animated from within’. It is an exploration of how technology is changing our relationship with everyday objects and is creating an ambient environment around us where nonliving things are brought to life. Paradoxically, these advances in technology reconnect us with our ancient past where objects and environments were thought to possess magical and divine powers. This was quite a concept to get my head around and it took a fair bit of reading to ‘get it’.

The method of curation was also alternative, approached as an aggregation of ‘things’, a ‘network of objects’, rather than a display of personal taste. Using the internet as a digital archive to research and select works over a period of two years, Leckey meticulously sourced and filed words, images, sounds and video into a conceptual matrix of humans, animals and machines to create a hybrid, an exhibition where the objects are ‘in the physical realm but came from the digital realm’. His concept for the show can be seen on You Tube, in his trailer-like film, Proposal for a Show, watch it and think about the challenge that faced the curator, finding all those things for what has been called a ‘post modern cabinet of curiosities’.

Leckey is often described as a ‘pop cultural anthropologist’ and I can see why, he samples across cultures, eras and media. Fortunately, David and Chelsea (the curator from the South Bank) brought clarity to my task by advising on the most important themes, we agreed that I would research and write about 12 selected works and that the design would be simple because the subject matter was so complex. David also suggested that I join the team on a visit to the Nottingham Contemporary (great gallery btw) to see the exhibition before it arrived at Bexhill, this helped enormously, although when it came to writing the copy it was challenging because there was so much I wanted to say, but no space for it.

I visited the DLWP during the installation process and observed the curators as they worked with the artist to agree where and how the works would be displayed. One highlight was watching as the courier responsible for an ancient Egyptian canopic jar and mummified cat, unpacked and examined each one closely with a torch, checking that they conformed to their condition report and tested the environmental conditions. Another highlight was watching the team inflate Felix’s giant head and position it within the stairwell at the front of the building. For a team that last summer had rigged a bus, Italian Job stylee, to be half-on-half-off the roof, this was a breeze. The team at the DLWP were extremely generous with their time and great to work with, I enjoyed every minute. Catch the exhibition if you can, it’s on until 20th October 2013.

Sandy Jones is a second year student in Museum and Heritage Studies (BA), Brighton University.

Hand signals

This time I wanted to do something a little bit different during the gallery intervention so I brought with me some dumb things of my own – a can, a bronze hand, a round stone and a piece of old fence. OR DID I????

Setting myself up at a table underneath a fairly Heath Robinson ‘tape written’ sign WHAT AM I DOING? I placed the dumb things on the table and then invited people to re-invent them, to give them qualities they thought they should or could have and annotate them. I was delighted by the range of responses – from  mystical to pragmatic, historical to sexual, witty and inventive.

It was a really buzzy day with lots going on and over 60 people came to see what I was up to

Not only was this a great way to start a conversation about the Leckey exhibition – some people loved it:

“It just has so many layers, I can’t stop making links between things”

and some people found it very challenging:

“I can see he’s chosen all these objects but don’t ask me why”

It also provided an interesting dynamic in the relationship between different people’s annotations, which has given me an idea for the next intervention!


Final thoughts of things and doodles (gallery interaction with Sheridan Quigley)

My final session with the Lecky show was crammed with people, both in the galleries and crawling all over the Rhizomic Drawing in the auditorium foyer. I had great fun. I think everyone else did too. By the end of the afternoon, there were so many people working on the giant piece of paper that there was barely space to to weald a pen. IMG_4800A favourite moment was seeing three generations of a family all lined up on the floor, drawing in unison.IMG_4796

The final piece, after three sessions of work, was full of lush moments:IMG_4813IMG_4809IMG_4817IMG_4819IMG_4822IMG_4826Alas there is not enough space here to do it all justice.

Meanwhile…in a gallery not far away…my excellent assistants, Sophie and Lizzie, were eliciting voices from the objects on display through the imagination of the visitors:

img-1-small480Boli, Mali: ” Some people think I’m a camel…some people think I’m a cow. I don’t know – I don’t have a head.”

Nissan Design Centre, clay concept car, 2012: “I should be chocolate”

Mark Leckey's Felix the Cat at De La Warr PavilionInflated Felix the Cat: “I’m melting…! I’m melting…!”

William Blake death mask: “I have learnt to silence your screams.”

538740983_oWurlitzer Sideman drum machine: “Desolate life, the life of machine. beating, repeating, monotonous dream. Looking alive, sounding alive, much different from you? Thinking…not you…that’s me!”

Singing gargoyle: “Maybe if I keep shouting, someone will hear me?”

And so on, and so on.

May all these restless beings dream in peace…!

sparkling….glistening….useful….but what is it ?

A very busy afternoon at the DLWP …. lots of visitors ….all over the building …..listening to the strange electronic music which formed part of the Dear Serge event. Artists and musicians everywhere offering a range of exciting and animated visual and sound imagery. In the gallery we encouraged visitors to try slow down and pay attention to one object and then describe it using a few words – later visitors were then asked to try and draw the described object (unseen) and then sent off to try and find it – the aim being to explore the gap between words and pictures …. some of our participants were very adept at using the descriptions to make an image – and even if they didn’t capture the object exactly it was interesting to explore the notion of interpretation…

The inner life of "dumb things": part 2

A bumper day for gallery interaction – over 70 people got involved, musing on the exhibits, or drawing on the terrace, creating a lovely sense of participation rather than mere observation. Some great comments summed up the varying responses:

“All my weirdest dreams together under one roof”.

“”What I love is the narratives between the objects- visual, sensory and audio. The narratives that I construct without the knowledge or history of these objects – the freedom to tell stories…Every school needs one!”.

” All the objects sing together “One Love” by Bob Marley.”

Here are just a few voices of the many objects, as overheard by visitors. Cogito ergo sum:

Wurlizter sideman drum machine. “Most people think I keep the same BPM (beats per minute) all day, but little do they know after dark I steadily increase it, peaking at around 120BPM”.538740983_o

Uterus Vase. Stephanie Rollin and The Plug. “I am the empty vessel in your body. I have been used and now wait to be filled once more. But you stand there and say no! Never again in this lifetime. I say, well you are too old anyway!!”uterus-vase2

Lucy, Australopithecus Afarensis. Marguerite Humeau. ” Hear my ancient voice in the new world. Do we speak the same language?”

Nunhead. Roger Hiorns. “Stand back! Stand back! Move away please. Warning. Stand back or otherwise I will squirt you with blue crystals”.Roger-Hiorns-Nunhead-2004_1

Woofer. Sander Mulder. “Listen but don’t play. Behave while we disobey”.

The Elephant Celebes. Max Ernst. “I am sad. Where’s Mama?”300px-The_Elephant_Celebes

Man coming out of the woman. Robert Gober. “If you’re going to do that, take your shoes off! Don’t you think I’ve got enough problems?”

Animal. David Musgrave. ” See! I didn’t eat the peanuts!”DKH0078C_01.tif

Medieval Hand Reliquary. “Will people ever have faith to pray to me again?”


Meanwhile, the Rhizomic Drawing on the terrace spread a little further:



Sheridan Quigley

10th August





Calling a spade a spoon

A boiling hot day  was only temporarily relieved by a downpour that sent people scuttling inside, lots of visitors and lots of people up for talking to ‘the woman in the white coat’. That was me and, as an ‘expert’,  I was inviting people to look at the exhibition  annotations and see if they found them entirely trustworthy. “Ask yourself why we give objects certain qualities” I said, “Maybe you can think of other ones. Look around you. Who’s to say a pepper grinder isn’t a mechanical sneeze accelerator?”

Annotations have always fascinated me, their form as much as their content, the way in which they direct you to see things in a certain way. I had a lot of conversations with people who seemed quite pleased to be given the opportunity to say they didn’t have a clue what it was all about.

” It’s interesting to talk to someone who doesn’t think I’m dumb”

“I’m really glad you’re doing this. It gives regular people a chance to burst the bubble of ‘the bogus religiosity and undue reverence given to modern art.”

‘I’ve always been the sort of person to believe what i was told…”

I suggested people may like to make their own annotations around the building or to think how they would re-annotate the objects in the exhibition. Just look at things a little differently…. here’s some of them doing that:







Having thought about this for a while, two visitors went downstairs to  gallery 1. “We have laughed” they said, when they came back. I thought that was probably a good thing.

..blank eyes … wide open mouth

A busy summer afternoon in the gallery with plenty of visitors happily engaging with The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things. With the help of our excellent volunteers visitors were encouraged to select one of the amazing objects on display and write a few words describing it. Other visitors were then set the task of creating an image from these few words and then going off to find the object that fitted the description – the aim being to reveal the space between words and image. It seemed a relatively simple task but proved quite complex especially when visitors attempted to describe some of the video work. In some cases the resulting drawings very closely resembled the original object and in others the drawings had a life of their own only loosely connected to the original.



The inner life of "dumb things" (gallery interpretations with Sheridan Quigley)

Chris Balcombe

“Cyberman helmet”, 1985. “Please don’t sneeze”.

The new show, “The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things” is magical cabinet of curiosities. There are things to delight, to horrify, to laugh at, to bewilder…but it makes you reflect, connect and consider the shifting boundaries between the animate and the inanimate.

With such a fabulously diverse exhibition to inspire thinking and drawing, the first interaction of the show drew in a wonderful diversity of participants of all ages. It’s great to see small children excited by imagery (“It’s spinning!”), teenage BMXers amused by witty pieces (“Woofer” and the inflatable Felix the cat) and older people genuinely interested in discussing the mindset of the artist and the concept behind the curating process.

Inside the gallery, visitors were asked to imagine the thoughts of the exhibits themselves, as so many of them seem to exude of a sense of their own consciousness:

“Cogito ergo sum” – thinking things:


“Lucy. Autralopithecus Afarensis”, 2011. Marguerite Humeau. “You gave me a new mouth; why won’t you feed me!”

“Untitled”, 1944. Edmund Monsiel. “I’m so pretty, oh so pretty…”

“Untitled”, 1994. Dwight Mackintosh. “I should get a boat.”

“Rocking machine”, 1969. Herman Makkink. “Looking forward to tonight.”

“BigBoxStatueAction”, 2012. Mark Leckey. “I’m just resting. Do Not Disturb”

Boli, Mali. “Sad. Lonely. Stupid.”

“I-limb Ultra”, 2012. Touch Bionics. “I will take over the world limb by limb…”

Wurlitzer sideman drum machine. 1959-65. “My life is one of repetition – I can go faster or slower- but always the same pattern – one day when I am dead, my legacy will be heard on every popular music production.”

Meanwhile…on the terrace, under the ferocious afternoon sun… we set out a 5m square of paper for a collaborative “Rhizomic Drawing” of ideas and connections.

Visitors to the show will no doubt recognise many of the items making an appearance in the drawing:IMG_4670IMG_4675IMG_4676IMG_4677IMG_4672

If you feel inspired to take part in either of these activities, come to the DLWP on Saturday, 10th August.