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Brad Downey - Municipal Mischief

Words:

Edd Norval
September 16, 2019

Brad Downey interferes with things. He's an artist whose particular style of art might first be seen as a glitch in reality before considered as a 'work of art'. This is because it appears in seemingly random places, and it has a subtlety that could just as easily be walked past until one minute further up the road, you stop and think 'wait, did I just see that, or am I imagining things?'

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Much of Downey's work focuses on the interplay of rules (laws of behaviour, laws of nature) and our behaviour towards them. It's like Establishment v Downey - expect that as soon as we see his artworks, we're baptised into his way of thinking too. When urban regulations are put in place, it's as a means of controlling behaviour, usually claimed to be with our best interests in mind - although this is sometimes a questionable motivation and one that Downey puts to the test.


His modus operandi isn't to come along and break the rules like a disobedient adolescent though, instead, he bends and warps them, making something vaguely familiar out of something else vaguely familiar - although, with the two familiar entities being so far unrelated, a wave of surrealism crashes over his works. It's when the everyday meets the everyday - without any context whatsoever.


Case in point. We know what balloons look like and we know what telephone boxes look like. But when telephones boxes come filled with balloons, our minds work in overtime to try and see the logical link between them. Just like Downey's piece House of Cards which displaces paving stones from a walkway and builds them skywards into a typical 'house of card' pyramid. We know the shape and we recognise blocks - but why are they configured this way?

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Such subtle trips in reality give the artist and his audience much scope to think about, but also a lot of room to just have fun. It would be a lie to say that, on a dreary bus journey to work, or a train back home from a family trip, that you'd never looked outside at the plain old world and reimagined it with some subtle shifts to make it that little bit more exciting. Downey does this and, I get the impression that if he had it his own way, we'd all be doing things like this too.


Beyond our perception of what it is we are seeing, Downey also interprets the very function of the object by using it in ways that are unconventional, rather than their utilitarian purpose.


Usually weighed down by bureaucratic decision making and red-tape, public works very rarely remain pure to the artists original vision. Downey evades this complication through opting for a spontaneous production style, making works that seemingly 'pop-up'. They're unpredictable and unanticipated, resisting - as mentioned earlier on - yet another groups of rules: those pertaining to the creation of art.

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It's the whimsical and playfulness of Downey's work that is being highlighted in a new exhibition at Lisbon's innovative MAAT gallery. The show Playmode will feature Downey alongside Gabriel Orozco and Ana Viera. As the exhibition description states, "The artists understood early on the transformative power of play, and began integrating it into their works for various purposes – escaping reality, social construction and transformation, subversion or as a criticism of game and play mechanisms themselves."


Having begun on the 11th of September, the show will continue until 17th of February 2020. Below is the full list of artists appearing.

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The Pixel Hunt, Pippin Barr, Aram Bartholl, /////////fur//// art entertainment interface, Gabriel Orozco, Priscila Fernandes, !Mediengruppe Bitnik, Mary Flanagan, Harun Farocki, Molleindustria, Bill Viola and USC Game Innovation Lab, Samuel Bianchini, Eva and Franco Mattes, Lucas Pope, Joseph DeLappe, Brent Watanabe, Filipe Vilas-Boas, Shimabuku, Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn, Tale of Tales, David Shrigley, André Gonçalves, Isamu Noguchi, Ana Vieira, Miltos Manetas, David OReilly, Brad Downey, Dunne & Raby with Michael Anastassiades, Os Espacialistas, CADA.

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