Artist and sculptor Giles Walker brings his Monster exhibition to Left Bank Leeds
Three years in the making, it is a powerful, thought-provoking comment on the current state of the nation. Although Walker began working on it before the Covid-19 pandemic hit our shores in 2020, he says that his intention was always to hold up a mirror to a country “in ill health”.
It is a clear-eyed, open-hearted and fearless exploration of some of the most challenging issues facing modern Britain, including immigration, domestic abuse and the divisive nature of today’s political climate.
“It started with the idea of building a piece that played out the insecurities and pain of a nation in the midst of a communal nervous breakdown,” he says. “I had actually given the animatronic figures persistent dry coughs which obviously took on a whole new relevance by the time the piece was first exhibited.”
Making its North of England debut at Left Bank Leeds, a progressive community art space within a Grade II* listed former church building in Burley Park, Monster has previously been shown in late 2020 at London’s Truman Stables where the response to it was very positive.
“It was quite overwhelming actually,” says Walker. “People found it incredibly moving and they were coming up to me afterwards saying how much it had affected them. I don’t want to tell people what to think, I didn’t ever want the piece to be preachy, but I hope they will go away and think about its themes.”
The piece also incorporates a soundtrack, orchestrated by and created in collaboration with Paul Hartnoll of electronic duo Orbital. It includes dystopian dialogue from politicians’ speeches and snippets from outdated racist comedians as well as clips from contemporary reportage, including Prince Andrew’s Newsnight interview, selected by Walker. “I think what Paul did with it is brilliant – it changed the whole tone of the piece.”
Walker began his artistic career in the late 1980s with the radical guerilla art collective Mutoid Waste Company who created artworks out of materials found in scrapyards. The group toured around Europe including installing a piece in West Berlin that featured a large-scale figure looking over the top of the Wall.
“We actually wanted to make a battering ram machine to ram the Wall but the authorities wouldn’t let us,” says Walker. “The group still exists. There were 12 members when it started, but we all go off and do different things.” They occasionally join up to work on a project. “I’m still with them; you never really leave.”
With Monster Walker says one of the things he wanted to do was to look at the centuries-old relationship between the British public and the establishment. “The more I looked at it, the more I began to realise that it is a toxic relationship,” he says.
“The way in which the different elements of the establishment fuse together to create an indestructible force to protect their power and money. That has become particularly apparent recently. I think the job of art is to expose the lie and point to what you believe is the truth –and that’s what I’m doing.”
Monster is at Left Bank Leeds, January 13-29. Free to view but tickets must be booked via leftbankleeds.org.uk