Jamie Shovlin is omnipotent, simultaneously donning the role of artist, archivist, curator and collector. He consumes and fabricates information—the relaying of it is central to his work. From the emergence of the ‘white cube’, the divergence between art and the museum has been significant to a number of artists, most predominantly the conceptual artists of the 1960s—Shovlin reprises the role. Inescapably referencing Duchamp, and sharing similar concerns to those of Broodthaers and Kosuth, he explores the transmission of knowledge and all of its loopholes. Pitched in both conceptualist and formalist camps he subsumes the two in a side-stepping tactic that sets him apart from his contemporaries.
Since graduating from London’s Royal College of Art in 2003, he has been nominee for both Bloomberg New Contemporaries and Beck’s Futures, continually affirming his rising status. The consistent thread that runs through his works is ‘the institution’, how it can define the significance of, and comment on, what it contains. Shovlin presents double negatives, faux archives that firstly intrigue, then confound the viewer.
‘Naomi V. Jelish’, 2001–04, is an archive of the photographs, drawings, letters, and schoolbooks of a young girl, who along with her family is alleged to have mysteriously disappeared in the early 1990s. The entire collection however, is completely contrived—Naomi V. Jelish an anagram of Shovlin’s own name, all meticulously feigned. Supposedly duping Saatchi, who acquired the collection, the role that Michelangelo’s fake ‘Cupid’ had in establishing his career bears a distant resemblance.
‘Lustfaust: A Folk Anthology 1976-81’, shown in the 2006 Beck’s Futures and at Freight + Volume, New York, is a similar archive, this time attributed to the West German rock band Lustfaust, or at least that is what we are lead to believe… The fan archive comprises cassette covers and other handmade paraphernalia, comprehensive to the extent of a web, Wikipedia and MySpace page devoted to the band.
‘In Search of a Perfect Harmony’, 2003-06, Shovlin’s 2006 installation at Tate Britain, London, developed these themes in a more considered, personal and intuitive manner. Forefronted again by an archive, his work balances gathered theoretical ‘fact’ on the birds in his mother’s garden with her subconscious interpretation—jigsaw-making. Shovlin’s current projects interweave, converging to make a strong body of work. The four-venue Aggregate tour features specific work made for each venue, connecting directly with each audience. And as the punch lines become less important, the relevance of his work progresses in earnest.
Steven Cairns is assistant editor of MAP