Simon Starling: Metamorphology

Since emerging from the Glasgow art scene in the early 1990s, Simon Starling (British, b. 1967) has established himself as one of the leading artists of his generation, working in a wide variety of media (film, installation, photography) to interrogate the histories of art and design, scientific discoveries, and global economic and ecological issues, among other subjects. The title of the exhibition, Metamorphology, alludes to one of the fundamental principles of Starling’s practice: an almost alchemistic conception of the transformative potential of art, or of transformation as art. Starling’s working method constitutes recycling, in the most literally circular sense of the word: repurposing existing materials for new, artistic aims; retelling existing stories to produce new historical insights; linking, looping, and remaking. The exhibition unfolds roughly along two intertwining paths in which metamorphosis is intrinsic to understanding art.

One of the things that the exhibition does and the selection of the works in the exhibition does is to sort of tease out this sort of concern with sort of very fundamental ideas about sculpture, about mass and material, and these kinds of things.

And then this sense of sort of trying to – I don’t know, almost defy that mass, that weight, that kind of material sense, with these very simple sort of engineering solutions, which do have this kind of almost sort of miraculous sense to them.

There’s a little bit of magic there in the idea that you can raise a 5,000-pound slab of steel with helium, essentially, with laughing gas. Or that you can make a ton and a half of marble hang from the ceiling of a museum in this kind of bizarre, miraculous balance, or even a car hanging on a wall is quite something to see—a little disorientating.

in a way what I’m doing with my work is sort of attempting to track back through time, to travel through time, to reconnect with sort of particular historical moments, and somehow the geographical travel, the travel in space somehow gives that time travel some sort of, I don’t know, weight.

I tracked down one of the original 126 Fiat, a red car that was one of the last ones to be manufactured in Turin, and then I drove that car to Poland and then I swapped out, with the help of a mechanic, all the movable body parts—the bonnet, the boot, and the two doors—for Polish produced parts, which were white. And then I drove this hybrid Polish-Italian vehicle back to Turin, and then it was hung on the wall of the gallery, where it became more of a painting or an image than a vehicle.

I suppose another sort of preoccupation of the work is how other artists have sort of framed their own practice, how they’ve mediated their own practice, and that’s a kind of I guess one of the sort of starting points for the Project for a Masquerade.

It actually has a very clear sort of, I don’t know, ancestry if you like, in Chicago, because the work refers very directly to a monument that was designed by Moore for Chicago University to mark the site of the first self-sustained nuclear reaction, which was instigated by the physicist Enrico Fermi.

I discovered that the museum in Hiroshima had essentially the same sculpture in their collection; a little bit smaller than the one in Chicago, but with exact same form, under a different name. So that became the germ of an idea about a sort of sculpture having a double identity, sort of a sculpture in disguise, if you like, which led me to think about masked theater and Japanese Noh and so on and so on—these very specific art historical stories, sort of finding a way to redeploy them to talk to a contemporary situation.

The projects develop in many, many different ways. They come about from sometimes, sort of, I don’t know, almost like half ideas, which you carry around with you for a long time, and suddenly they find a home. Suddenly they connect. It’s about finding homes for ideas or fragments of narrative or something like that.