When artist James Ireland walks around a city, he clearly sees things differently to the average urbanite; but he also understands how appreciation for the unglamorous functional items that make up the daily landscape takes a certain sensibility. 'I think most artists would like their work to be looked at slowly and poignantly for hours on end, but in reality know that most people squeeze past on the way to the bar,' he says. 'But more seriously, I hope the works are not too quick to be looked at. Of course, it could be "there’s a shoe lace and some concrete". But I hope the question of why these things have been put together is raised.'
At a new presentation of his work – titled 'Flow//Flow', curated by Paul Luckraft, and part of the Zabludowicz Collection's 'Invites' series – Ireland uses ubiquitous everyday items, a mainstay in the language of his sculptural installations: burger cartons, shoelaces, cable ties, breeze blocks, plastic bags and fluorescent tubing are all utilised. 'They are so prosaic, there is no need to innovate their design, or do anything interesting with them. They are sort of clichés, but also strangely pure things too.' Ireland is drawn to items that don’t belong to a specific culture or single place but that are not neutral either. They’re items churned out by the mass production machine of advanced capitalism and they connote a lifestyle that could be aligned with a certain kind of thinking.
'They are part of a repertoire of objects that I have been referring to as generic – items that come from industrialisation and are found all across the planet,' explains Ireland. 'I guess at their root they are "Western", but are found in all cultures. There are also little nods to the navigation of spaces and landscapes in items such as running shoe laces and bike tyres. Thirdly, they possess a sculptural fascination – the weave of the cable and the lace, the repetition and the cast and foamed form of the carton, the elegant line of the tyre.... There is all this stuff going on in these items whose individual value is not much above zero. So, there are a lot of thoughts in there about value and manufacture that I am co-opting.'
Ireland is as much interested in the physical properties of these things. His studio practice is, he says, something like a science experiment, where he tests and stretches the limits of his materials. 'There is a lot of moving and arranging of items,' he says of the process that goes on behind closed doors. 'Sometimes it is obvious what I should do with an item, sometimes they just sit around waiting to be used (or binned!).'
How preoccupied is he with the wider issues raised by a mass produced landscape? 'Very,' Ireland asserts. 'But my work is not a reaction against it – no such thing is possible. I'm interested in making work from the world of the mass produced; I'm a mass produced individual. In fact, I think the idea of the "individual" comes from a mass produced logic. I think this situation drives the call for an escape, an untainted space. I'm trying to make work out of that.'