File Note 26: Steve Claydon - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Steven Claydon



The Coronation of Talu vii, Emperor of Ponukele and King of Drelshkaf Images References Quote Biography Credits

The Coronation of Talu vii, Emperor of Ponukele and King of Drelshkaf

 “…three objects hanging in a row clearly displayed like lottery prizes. The first of these objects was nothing more nor less than a bowler hat with the French word ‘PINCÉE’ printed in white capitals on its white crown; the next one was a dark grey suede glove with the palm turned outwards and a large ‘C’ lightly marked on it with chalk; lastly there dangled from the string a fine sheet of parchment, covered with strange hieroglyphs and bearing as a heading the rather crude drawing of five figures, deliberately made to look absurd by their general posture and exaggerated features.” [Raymond Roussel, Impressions of Africa, Paris, 1910] 

Raymond Roussel devotes the opening chapter of his novel to the description of a curious, eccentric, fanciful and opiate tableau set in a fictitious country in a continent he had not and would never visit. In a specially selected area, a complex series of constructions, objects and vignettes are arranged in oblique relation to one another. Each scenario is distinct, but a loose aura of commonality is provoked or inferred, partly through proximity and partly by design. The familiarity of the furniture of display (pedestals, plaques, frames, notices, vitrines, stages etc) leads one to suspect or impose some kind of fugitive logic on to the seemingly aimless constellation of absurd, anachronistic, cruel and redundant objects, artifacts, images and documents at once domestic and exotic, both practical and specialised beyond application or implementation. What unifies these things, scenes, texts and dysfunctional machines is not explained Roussel leaves this to the ensuing chapters, where he proceeds to unravel this Sado-Dadaistic intestine of undigested possibility. It is Roussel’s process of fictional observation and matter of fact illustration that lends these very strange objects and images gravity in spite of their idiosyncratic context, or because of it.

“Only useless things are indispensable”
[Francis Picabia, YES NO: Poems & Sayings (from 1939, 1953, 1957), 1990]

‘Strange events permit themselves the luxury of occurring’ concerns itself with certain exceptions, flaws, aberrations, yawning apertures and flowering discrepancies inherent in taxonomic, historical, and aesthetic groupings. In particular it considers the way in which the artifact, object and document behave within a shifting contextual climate with an emphasis on the ‘thingly’ character of the work of art and its constant attempts to struggle against definition, toward self-abnegation and self-cannibalization.’ 

“Beethoven’s quartets lie in the publisher’s storeroom like potatoes in the cellar”
[Martin Heidegger, The Origin of the Work of Art, 1948]

Martin Heidegger dwells on this wrestling match between material ‘Earth’ and contextual ‘World’ in his 1948 text The Origin of the Work of Art. This semantic pugilism is for Heidegger the ‘Work-Being’ in the work of art, an oscillation between revealing and concealment necessary to distinguish the art object from ‘equipment’ (craft, utility). Heidegger argues that the craft object consumes its material in the service of the thing. The energy or work is expended in the manufacture of the ‘equipment’ which then conceals it, rendering the object superficial or decorative. Heidegger perceives the artist as conduit or medium who enables through spontaneous growth (phusis) the ‘being’ of the work, who sets the stage for the work’s ‘pure self subsistence’, a unique and self-perpetuating (autonomous) encounter between substance and symbol that “holds open the Open of the world”. This event for Heidegger is the Work-Being in the work of art. He leaves himself a failsafe by sneakily allowing the artwork the luxury (quite rightly) of a vacillation between concealment and revealing — what Nietzsche would identify as the Apollonian and Dionysian character of the artist straddling, in tandem, the artifact.

 “The greatest monuments create the most dust”
[Arthur Cravan, Four Dada Suicides, Selected Texts of Arthur Cravan, Jacques Rigaut, Julian Torma and Jacques Vache, 1995]

In my capacity as guest curator, I would like this exhibition (amongst other things) to shed some light on the curious and spurious hierarchy of materials (matter, earth, caca etc) and the venerable status endowed on the work of art, monument or relic. Strange Events attempts to loosely accrete artists whose practices betray a willful incongruity and a mercurial approach to such associative categorisations and establish a climate of practice that aggregates around the errant core of the ‘thingly’, whatever that may be. The show explores the problematic and elusive penumbra where the art object somehow distinguishes itself from the utilitarian or craft object through means of discretion or bombast. 

 “The Pursuit of Fecality
There where it smells of shit
it smells of being.
Man could just as well not have shat,
not have opened the anal pouch,
but he chose to shit
as he would have chosen to live
instead of consenting to live dead.
Because in order not to make caca,
he would have had to consent
not to be,
but he could not make up his mind to lose
that is, to die alive.
There is in being
something particularly tempting for man
and this something is none other than
(Roaring here.)”
[Antonin Artaud, To Have Done With the Judgement of God, (Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu), a radio play, 1947]

Anomalies and free radicals have constantly referenced and cross-referenced one another, circumventing the labyrinth of categorization. These artists have no time for governing principals, maintaining a scrupulous lack of scruples and embracing the territory between asceticism and suppurating grotesquery, even burrowing their way back to their swampy material genesis. Other artists ape utility or forge a spurious utilitarian provenance, doctoring the venerability heaped on posterity. Puncturing every time-line, there is an aberration that perverts lineal conceit and illuminates hermeneutics, history and the history of things to become an obscure and lateral mesh where exceptions challenge orthodoxy. These complex and contradictory elements spawn a panoply of exceptions and incongruity that threaten the already flimsy lineal dictates that sheepishly steward art production. The remnants of a litany of flawed utopian manifestos and spectres of proselytizing modernist and postmodern pronouncements that replaced an equally ludicrous skeleton of theories and rhetoric before them. Here the document becomes the monument as the fragment cannibalises the whole (the periphery subsumes the academy) and the cycle continues. 

“Laws are against the exception, I only like the exception”
“Morality is the dorsal spine of idiots”
[Francis Picabia, YES NO: Poems & Sayings (from 1939, 1953, 1957), 1990]

Associative groupings appear from this miasma of disparate processes and practices like survivors from a big fat disaster, an unlikely assembly of limbs and singularities bonded by expedience. This post historical fallout leaves us frolicking in the void like imbeciles waiting for a really good fart. Like the subjects of Artaud’s The Pursuit of Fecality, we find ourselves producing (Caca) for productions sake, in lieu of the tangible, in lieu of manifesto, and that’s fine with me. We know that tangibility was always a construct, the manifesto as a bombastic conceit and history — at best a kind of retrospective fiction — what Richard Dawkins describes as “the conceit of hindsight”. So what? It may be that an acceptance of the polymorphic or a-parallel nature of histories and culture-context could lead us to better understand ‘the thingliness of things’, or perhaps as Charlie Chan, a character as fictional and preposterous as any in Roussel’s Impressions of Africa, didn’t once say, “Strange events permit themselves the luxury of occurring.”

Inventory of Works

Anna and Bernhard Blume Transzendentaler Konstruktivismus 1992/4, 126 5 8 cm, 6 photographs on PVC. Courtesy the artist

Carol Bove A Setting for A. Pomodoro 2005, concrete, bronze, mixed media, 240 5 360 cm. Commissioned by The Blanton Museum, Austin, Texas. Pomodoro sphere collection of Jay and Shirley Marks, Houston. Courtesy of the artist; maccarone, New York; Dennis Kimmerich Gallery, Dusseldorf and HOTEL, London.

Strawberries Need Rain (After Dark photo collage), 2003, photo collage and plexiglas frame, 33.5 5 26.6 5 4 cm. Courtesy Khezri Collection, UK

Bonnie Camplin Cancer 2004, DVD, monitor, stand, chairs

Claude Cahun 13 photographs: c. 1932 30/f; Têtes de Cristal British Museum, London, June – July 1936, 44/f; c. 1938, 31/t; May 1945, 30/u, 34/k; Phantom of Sex Appeal Event, Sheila Legge in Trafalgar Square 1936, artist unknown, 40/q; Je tends les bras 1932, 22/v; Poupée 1 September 1936; Je donnais ma vie 1936, 35/z; c. 1939, 30/o; Pour que tu vives une heure 1936, 36/d; June – July 1936, 44/g. Military tailors London, June – July 1936, 26/o. all 10 5 8 cm, (approx. image size), Gelatin silver prints. Courtesy Jersey Heritage Trust

Lynn Chadwick 656, Pair of Sitting Figures III 1973, bronze, 53 5 60 5 60 cm. Photo: Lynn Chadwick. Courtesy Estate of Lynn Chadwick

Neil Chapman Into the Plasma Pool 2002, duration: 6 mins 29 secs, sound recording. Courtesy the artist

Steven Claydon Various deployed works 2007. Courtesy the artist and HOTEL, London

Hans Coper Vase with lobed body c. 1970, 

Spade-shaped form 1970s 

Cycladic Arrow Form 1976 (Lent by the Keatley Trust), ceramics. Collection The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Keith Coventry Endangered Species 2005, oil on canvas, c. 100 5 120 cm (5 8). Courtesy david roberts collection

Burgess Park SE5, Planted 1983, destroyed 1988 1994, Bronze, 154 5 30 5 30 cm. Tate: purchased 2006

Jacob Epstein Romilly John — head of an infant 1907, bronze. Collection of The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Vincent Fecteau Untitled 2000, papier mache, acrylic, pushpin & toilet paper roll 

Untitled 2000, papier mache, acrylic, foamcore, collage, walnut 

Untitled 2000, papier mache, balsa wood, foamcore, acrylic, rope, popsicle sticks, pushpin & rubber bands. Courtesy greengrassi, London

Elisabeth Frink Goggle Head 1969, bronze, 60 5 56.5 5 44.5 cm. Tate: purchased 1998

Alberto Giacometti Portrait of Isobel bronze cast and patinated dark brown, 1936 – 7. Collection of The Fitzwiliam Museum, Cambridge

Richard Hawkins Urbis Paganus I, 4 2006, collage, ink, 51 5 38 cm

Urbis Paganus I, 5 2006, collage, 51 5 38 cm. Courtesy of Gaby + Wilhelm Schürmann Herzogenrath Berlin 

Urbis Paganus II, 4 2007, collage, ink, 38 5 51 cm

Urbis Paganus III, 2 2006, collage, ink, 50.5 5 38 cm

Urbis Paganus III, 6 2006, collage, 50.5 5 38 cm

Urbis Paganus III, 9 2006, collage, 50 5 38 cm 

Urbis Paganus III, 13 2006, collage, gouache, 50.5 5 38 cm. All courtesy Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne 

Urbis Paganus II 9, 2007, collage, ink, 54.7 5 34.5 cm. Courtesy Ringier Collection

Jenny Holzer Bodies Lie In The Bright Grass And Some, Are Murdered And Some Are Picnicking, Text: Survival (1983–1985) 2005, text on cast aluminium plaque, 15.2 5 25.4 cm 

If things were a little different…Text: Living (1980–1982) 2005, text on cast bronze plaque, 16.5 5 25.4 cm 

People like to breed animals… Text: Living (1980–1982) 1981 (editioned), enamel on metal, hand-painted sign: red on white, 53.3 5 58.4 cm. Courtesy Monika Sprüth, Philomene Magers, Cologne, Munich, London

Thomas Houseago Folded Man 1997, plaster, jute, inox, 220 5 110 5 80 cm 

Joanne 2005, plaster, hemp, steel, graphite, 124.5 5 58.4 5 86.4 cm 

Caryatide with Squatting Man 2000/01, wood, plaster, iron, jute, 300 5 90 5 40 cm. Courtesy Saatchi Gallery, London

Des Hughes Norfolk Flint (with Boring) 2007, bronze, 15 5 19 5 26 cm

Norfolk Flint (with Prominence) 2007, bronze, 20 5 14 5 28 cm

Soft Fruit 2007, bronze, nylon, 7.5 5 8 5 12.5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Ancient & Modern, London

Mark Leckey The March of the Big White Barbarians 2005, 5 mins, Format Beta SP/DVD. Courtesy the artist and LUX, London

Simon Martin Carlton 2006, DVD, duration: 8 mins 25 secs. Courtesy the artist and Carl Freedman Gallery, London

Eduardo Paolozzi Studies and maquettes c. 1975 – 2000, plaster, wood, wax, clay, dims variable. Courtesy Marcus Campbell

Francis Picabia Femme à l’Idole 1940 – 42, oil on canvas, 105 5 74 cm.  Private Collection, London, courtesy Galerie Natalie Seroussi

Elizabeth Price Artefacts from the New, Ruined Institute: Monument …  to Spira; Monument … to Arc; Monument … to Graduate; Monument …  to Island; Monument … to Phillips; Monument … to Eagle; Monument …  to Sire; Monument …  to Summit; Monument … to Atlantic; Monument … to Just Do It, 2005 – 07, B&W photographs, 41 5 59 cm (5 8). Courtesy the artist

Marcus Selg Kopf (Rabenthaler) 2003, metal, 38 5 28 5 27 cm. 

Untitled (Portrait) 2004, sublimation print on fabric, 50 5 40 cm. Private Collection, London, courtesy Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin

Jim Shaw Initiation Ritual of the 360 degree, (from the Rite of the 360 degree) 2002, DVD-R, exhibition copy 

Testicle Bagpipe 2002, latex rubber, 74 5 63.5 5 40.6 cm. Courtesy the artist

Charles Simonds Dwelling 2007, wood, metal, plaster, clay, polyurethane foam, 60 5 37 5 32 cm

LandscapeBodyDwelling 1970, photograph: Nathanson. Courtesy the artist

John Stezaker Untitled Film Portrait Collage XXIII 2007, framed collage (film still), 28.6 5 23.5 cm

Touch 1 c. 1976, found mannequin on plinth, 5.5 5 10 5 21 cm 

Touch 2 c. 1978, found mannequin on plinth, 6 5 9 5 17 cm. Courtesy the artist and The Approach, London

Edward Underwood Lowlights 2003, sound recording, 7 mins 56 seconds. Courtesy the artist

Franz West Cool Book 2007, lacquered aluminium, 59 5 183 5 200 cm. © Franz West. Courtesy Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich

J.D.Williams Untitled 1988, 29.5 5 11 cm. Courtesy Cabinet Gallery, London

Works from Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London

Douglas Binder Procession 1969, ink on paper, 38.1 5 50.8 cm

Edward Burra Design for a Drop Curtain 1946, watercolour on paper, 54.6 5 94.6 cm

Jeffery Camp Laetitia Picking Blackcurrants 1967, oil and alkyd resin on board, 61 5 61 cm

Jane England Brian and Dominie 1977, photograph, silver bromide print, 22.2 5 15.1 cm

Rachel Fenner  Still Pendulum 1977, pencil, pen, ink and gouache on paper, 37.5 5 28.1 cm

Ian Hamilton Finlay Cominus et Eminus 1977, stone relief, 17.7 5 35.5 5 8 cm

Guy Hetherington A Charm Against Violent Weather 1977, watercolour and gouache on paper, 32.6 5 44.6 cm

Peter Lanyon Colour construction 1960, stained glass, 64 5 62 5 62.8 cm

Wyndham Lewis Two Women 1912, pencil, ink, gouache and collage on paper, 48 5 62.5 cm

Sidney Nolan, Kelly, Spring 1956, ripolin on board, 121.9 5 91.4 cm

Eduardo Paolozzi Pitt Rivers 1945, ink and crayon on paper, 38.1 5 56.5 cm

Margaret Priest Still out of Breath in Arizona 1970, pencil on paper, 58 5 79 cm

NYC in August 1973, pencil on paper, 79 5 58 cm

Graham Sutherland Drawing of a Palm Tree 1948, pencil and watercolour on paper, 22.2 5 17.1 cm


Jerome Rothenberg (Ed.) Kurt Schwitters: Poems, Performance, Pieces, Prose, Plays, Poetics translated by Pierre Joris, Exact Change, Cambridge, 2002

Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza Genes, Peoples and Languages Penguin Press Science, 2001

Willard Bohn The Dada Market, An Anthology of Poetry Southern Illinois University Press, 1993

James Frazer The Golden Bough, A Study in Magic and Religion first published 1922, Abridged edition: Penguin Books, 1996

‘Never knowingly understood.’
Alex Rich, 2004

‘Optimism is cowardice.’ Oswald Spengler, Man and Technics, 1931


Steven Claydon (b.1969) lives and works in London. He studied at Chelsea School of Art & Design and Central St Martins. Recent solo exhibitions include ‘Courtesy Of The Neighbourhood Watch’, White Columns, NY; ‘New Valkonia’, David Kordansky Gallery, LA; ‘All Across The Thready Eye’, Galerie Dennis Kimmerich, Düsseldorf and ‘Fear of a Planet’, HOTEL, London. Recent group exhibitions include ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, MCA Chicago; ‘Pale Carnage’, Arnolfini; ‘Rings of Saturn’, Tate Modern; ‘Time Lines’, Kunstverein Düsseldorf; ‘Dereconstruction’, Barbara Gladstone Gallery. He was a member of the band Add N to (X) and is currently in Jack Too Jack. Steven Claydon is represented by HOTEL, London; Galerie Dennis Kimmerich, Düsseldorf and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles


Steven Claydon is an artist based in London.