Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson
Region: North West
Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson began their partnership in 1994, when they shared a studio space in Manchester. Their work explores cultural values by addressing questions around faith, politics, national identity and the environment. Often built around pairings and oppositions, their video and sculptural works explore duality and its cultural effects. More recently this interest has developed into a concern with religious belief in contemporary society.
Nick Crowe, born in Barnsley in 1968, is based in Manchester and Berlin. His art uses a range of strategies including the exploration of the role of technology and its effects on everyday life. He has a specific interest in the use of glass as a contemporary material. Widely known as a multi-media artist, his practice eludes pigeon-holing. Crowe was engaged in setting up significant artist-led initiatives in Manchester during the 1990s, and has continued to contribute to cultural life in the region, working on the Manchester Pavilion project at the 2003 Venice Biennale as well as co-curating Arttranspennine03, a trans-regional exhibition of public art, along with Ian Rawlinson.
Ian Rawlinson was born in Macclesfield in 1965. His work focuses on sculpture and drawing which reflect his interest in modularity, repetition and the everyday. Since the late 1990s he has exhibited his work in galleries throughout the UK and abroad, including the Chisenhale Gallery (2001) and at The Agency for Contemporary Art (2005), both in London.
The pair’s collaborations often centre on the theme of duality and the ways in which the meanings of objects can change when they are duplicated. Fascinated by pairs, the objects, images and words were placed in relationship to each other, sometimes in opposition, sometimes in dialogue. The process of duplicating something can allow a deeper understanding of its cultural meaning.
The artists use the idea of things in twos as a kind of organizing principle to frame a wide range of interests. ‘Our work’, say Crowe and Rawlinson, ‘might be about human relationships, delinquency, faith or sex but the pieces all work through this method of presenting a thing… with another one. It’s different from making pairs or sets or doubles – it’s about how your understanding of an object changes when you force it to be seen in relation to itself. When you select the right things to be shown in twos, it can be both complex and enchanting.’
In Twinkle two protagonists who resemble human twins, are presented formally front on and side-by-side. Each figure has been split along a vertical centreline and is seen as a tightly cropped mirror image of itself. As they slightly sway on the spot their human features momentarily appear and disappear along this mirror axis in a transmogrified hallucination. It is a work about sex, death and excess. The protagonists are filmed in the act of inhaling Amyl Nitrite or Poppers. Amyl nitrite and several other alkyl nitrites are often inhaled with the goal of enhancing sexual pleasure. These products have also been part of the club culture. Inducing a sudden hysterical rush when inhaled the high induced by Amyl Nitrite is only short lived and followed by a prolonged down.
Two Eternal Flames symbolizes the opposing views of the US and Cuba. The two eternal flames – one is the John F Kennedy Torch of Friendship at Bayford Park on the eastside of Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami which was inaugurated in 1960 as symbol of lasting friendship between the US and their geographical neighbours, the other is located in little Havana in Miami and was erected in memory of the Cuban exiles captured during the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 – are seen side-by-side in the video. They create an illusion as in reality the flames are two miles apart and their attempt and inability to represent ‘eternity’ reveal them as located in the temporal. Originally, the eternal flame was a religious aspect of Persian Zoroastrianism, next to Hinduism considered to be one of the oldest religions of the world. According to Greek and Persian accounts three great fires existed in Persian History which are collectively the earliest evidence of the eternal flame.
Works like The Four Horsemen operate through an unravelling of the social and ideological consequences of an action in relation to its apparent spectacle. Shown as a four channel installation The Four Horsemen features the accelerated transformation of bunches of tulips showered by lit matches. Each video is titled after one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War (red tulips), Pestilence (yellow tulips), Famine (orange tulips) and Death (multi-coloured tulips). The videos employ digital manipulation so that as the plants wilt they compact into a charred bug like image in the centre of the stage.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are described in just eight verses of the Book of Revelation, the last book in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. They are part of an apocalyptic vision in which God summons and empowers them to wreak divine havoc on the world. The title of the work evokes links with art history, particularly Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut print series of the Apocalypse, which recounts visually of the horror of the last days. Published shortly before the turn of the century, the visions were thought to be prophecies of the advancing last days. Dürer produced the work at a time of significant change in Europe. The Spanish and the Portuguese were discovering new lands to the south and west. The Turks were invading Europe from the south and east. New ideas were erupting from the towns in northern Italy and the Lowlands. The comforting certainties of medieval life, with its celebration of order and Christian unity, were giving way to spiritual doubt and ultimately to schism and war. The installation piece by Crowe and Rawlinson evokes a similar atmosphere. The international structures laboriously built up over the past sixty years are not up to the task of managing issues of war, famine, climate change and disease. Through flooding and desertification, climate change threatens the habitats and agricultural resources that societies depend upon for survival. As such, climate change is also likely to contribute to mass migrations and even to wars over land, water and other natural resources.
Each of the three new video works deal with slightly different but complex themes and follow on from works such as The Name of God, Two Leprechauns and The Carriers’ Prayer. Crowe and Rawlinson not only explore the everyday but also the spiritual profundity. Eternal Flame, for instance, like their video Two Bushes links the biblical with the contemporary ‘urban’ and make no specific claim for speaking for Jewish, Christian or Muslim religions.
Over the last fifteen years, their collaborative work has been shown in Britain and abroad. More recently, they participated in the following group shows: Mobile Research Station (Sculpture Park, Berlin, 2009); Involved, Socially (Triple Base Gallery, San Francisco, 2009); Stranger things are happening (Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth, 2009); Arttranspennine08 (Apartment, Manchester, 2008) and A Season of Film (Axel Lapp, Berlin, 2008). Solo shows include The Carrier’s Prayer at Newlyn Art Gallery, Penzance (2008); At 25 Metres, Fact Liverpool (2007); Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson at Manchester Art Gallery and Aspex Gallery Portsmouth (2003). Crowe and Rawlinson are represented by Ceri Hand Gallery, Liverpool.
by Tanja Pirsig-Marshall, Curator of Exhibitions, Leeds Art Gallery