Sculpture Shock 2014 gets underway with Patrick Lowry’s installation Quantitative Easing, housed in the subterranean gloom of the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury. Access to the space is via a steep ramp, a reminder that the premises were built (in the late 18th century) as a treatment centre for London’s hard-working horses. Picking one’s way down the steep incline, one can imagine their hooves slipping and sliding as they anxiously negotiated the unfamiliar descent.
After the closure of the hospital, a commercial printer turned the basement into a busy print shop which continued operating until the 1980s. A concrete slab built to accommodate the heavy press is still in situ and it is this recent history which Lowry has chosen to address. You could be fooled, in fact, into thinking he has created a museum of social history. Occupying centre stage is a large Heidelberg Offset press of the kind used in the print shop. Did the printers leave it behind because it was too heavy to move?
Rather than a trip down memory lane, though, this exhibition is a multi-layered investigation of the smoke and mirrors world of contemporary finance. Despite being utterly convincing, the printing press turns out to be made from sheets of MDF painted grey to resemble steel. The pressure dial was created on photo-shop and its “glass” cover is the plastic lid of a yoghourt pot; one lever is a foot rest from a BMX bike, others are made from lengths of dowelling; the discs that crank the bed up and down are the bases of stainless steel food bowls found in Wickes. Thrown over the bed is a grey blanket of the kind used by removal firms; lift up one corner and, in place of the heavy rollers you expect to see, there is an immaculate void.
The duplicity does not end there. Apparently, the fake press has been printing euro bank notes, some of which are still drying while others are packed ready for shipment. Have we stumbled into a criminal underworld of forgers and counterfeiters? Things are not that clear cut. With central banks stimulating local economies by printing money – the Quantitative Easing of the title – and bankers generating millions by selling virtual commodities to imaginary buyers, the border between the legal and illicit seems remarkably elastic. Whether they like it or not, artists are sucked into this murky realm by producing work that, despite having no actual use, might one day become an investment opportunity.
Art has always dealt in illusion and, when nothing serious is at stake, being fooled is a delight; but Lowry’s installation generates more than pure pleasure. He seduces us into considering the part played by illusion in other areas of activity, such as global finance, that have a profound impact on our lives – where our willingness to be duped becomes a political issue, rather than a self-reflective game.
Written by Sarah Kent