Entering Carlos/Ishikawa’s east London exhibition space, just off Mile End Road, the viewer first sees the back of four tall wooden containers, equally spaced in a diagonal line down the middle of the room. It is not possible to examine the contents of these containers until crossing to the opposite side of the room; in its first appearance the work therefore creates an obstacle to the making of judgements.
Today's Gift, Tomorrow's Commodity
Today’s Gift is Tomorrow’s Commodity . . . is the most recent exhibition by long-term collaborators Ali Eisa and Sebastian Lloyd Rees. The two artists, who met while studying at Goldsmiths, work together as Lloyd Corporation. Drawing on their long standing interests in waste, the use of found objects, and acts of repurposing, TGITC invites viewers to contemplate objects presented ‘in storage’.
"a Sports Direct bag stuffed with Union Jack lanyards, a fidget spinner, a CD storage tower"
On the far side, the four containers are open. Browsing, I see a series of found objects: a bike frame without wheels, a stack of grey metal barrels, a wire frame with dozens of computer monitors in the back, a neon green plastic box with sealed, some unused cassette tapes. Another crate contains a Sports Direct bag stuffed with Union Jack lanyards, a fidget spinner, a CD storage tower, used furniture. I want to get inside the containers and touch everything. One container is packed full with polythene bags stuffed with second hand and used clothes. One white bag is marked with a yellow smiley and ‘Thank You Have a Nice Day’. Everywhere there are the marks of language and ownership: DHL, Qatar Foundation, London Evening Standard, Dubai, Burger King, Sports Direct, and the phrase 'MEGA VALUE’. Even when objects aren’t ‘in use’, they bear the marks of countries, organisations, and corporate allegiances.
Objects abound: used furniture, discarded identity cards, children’s art. Things stacked inside of things, differing scales and distinct meanings co-exist in various states of organisation and disorder. One can’t help but notice that certain objects are new, contained in quantities that imply they could yet be sold. While other things bear the marks of wear, and therefore bring consideration to the humans that once possessed them.
At first, the presentation of the objects in wooden storage crates made me think of sea cargo. But the work resists such specificity. A variety of other situations are also contained in their transitory placement. Not only the shipping container, but the storage unit, the work of home clear out services, the rubbish dump, and just the sheer collection of disused, unwanted, discarded, and abandoned objects to be found the world over (some of the economy of these contexts is explored in the accompanying gallery text).
"through the arrangement and composition of this work, Lloyd Corporation is attempting to reclaim ‘clutter’ as an artistic process"
Lloyd Corporation invites the viewer to consider the value of objects in transit. In a temporal muddle, past, present, and future commingle – the gallery space itself sitting both inside and outside of commodity exchange. In their arrangement, the containers and their contents are removed from everyday use. But the everyday is the sphere of meaning that this work cannot escape.
Part of the allure of this work is its simplicity: the wooden containers provide form and the objects inside are its content. It is the arrangement of these things, in various states of use and discard, that bear the work of artistic composition. One might consider that, through the arrangement and composition of this work, Lloyd Corporation is attempting to reclaim ‘clutter’ as an artistic process. Collecting and arranging in heaps, this cluttering is supposed to produce a kind of disordering and confusion of the symbolic, creating space for new interpretation.
For over a decade, Lloyd Corporation’s work has been interested in exploring the limits of the generic and the mundane, so as to activate new elements and make them present for thinking through. In an interview in Tank Magazine, the artists say of their 2020 exhibition, ‘Person to Person’, where they arranged telegraph poles with missing persons notices in the gallery, that the use of found objects is: 'about a practice of re-routing, of giving these objects a different kind of circulation, so that people engage with them in a different light and with a renewed focus.' This is useful for thinking about the stored materials in ‘Today’s Gift is Tomorrow’s Commodity . . .’
"a biting simplicity"
A fellow Goldsmith’s alumni, Damien Hirst’s ‘Pharmacy’ (1992) utilises found objects to reconstruct a pharmacy with striking precision. Lloyd Corporation draws on this use of found objects in recent British art (including the work of other YBAs, such as Tracey Emin) and supplements these conceptual methods with a materialist critique of exploitative regimes of exchange.
There is a biting simplicity to how this kind of conceptual art can resonate with the distant humanity of lives absent from the work, yet nevertheless with which the work is saturated. Lloyd Corporation wants us to think about how these objects produce multiple kinds of value, and speak to absent lives, distinct histories, and the wounds of capitalist production.
This piece elevates that absent life by allowing for deep contemplation on the ways that our social structures are organised such that people and things are wasted. However, for all of the ways that this work functions as a space to elevate absent life, the work itself, and its materials remain somewhat inanimate, and starkly so.
Our thoughts trade with the objects as freely as commodities move at the expense of people. From this work, our thinking is free to make the meaning that we want, with little resistance or challenge to the viewer’s emotional capacity to receive such pain. But resistance produced by the artwork is the place from where the imagination can spark, and from where new directions and feelings can emerge. The creative process behind this work cannot match the conceptual rigour of its inception – and the world of the work feels smaller for it.
By Ed Luker