These works appear in the shadow of a vast 3D film, in which ghost-like fragments of cartoons, and animated googly eyes float out through the cartoon-cosmos and into the gallery. These moving image works all orbit around a central nucleus, a CNC milled sculpture of the artist’s cartoon avatar reclining entombed and deathly, seemingly dreaming or hallucinating; or perhaps a sacrificial offering, Holden severing himself from his own cartoon-representation.
From the opening large painting, 10 Things You Have Been Doing Wrong This Whole Time, set in a desert, Holden's cartoon world feels eerily vacant, a post-cartoon, post-environmental disaster landscape, haunted by a sense of loss and bereavement. The melancholy of the animated shorts seems to stem from an alienation, an inability for the body to adjust to the cartoon landscape; the artist-avatar seems entranced and embattled in dualistic Cartesian thinking, unable to access the cartoon logic of suspended belief after all.
A clue to interpreting the show is found in Cartoon Short Episode 3: I Wouldn’t Dream of It, in which the animated Holden wanders through Scooby Doo’s haunted house, using Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams as a guide to unpicking the rooms he encounters. Dream logic, one thing standing in for another, the mixing of the recent past with distant memories, is a methodology used to assemble the works in the exhibition as whole. Recently Holden has been referring to his methodology as ‘hermeneutics’, examining the nature of interpretation itself. In the new episode, made especially for Block 336, Marx’s interpretation of the commodity object in Chapter 1 of Capital, is used to try to understand a now empty ‘Bedrock’. Made from collaged images from the original Flintstones cartoon series, the cartoon figure is walking and quoting to himself, like a figure from the end of Fahrenheit 451, Marx’s ideas of how an object becomes ‘phantomlike’ in its status as commodity, to attempt to explain the alienation present in the cartoon landscape at large. Fragments of headlines and the artist’s poems are disjunctively interspliced, taking on a polyphonic voice that seems to underpin the feeling of this dislocation.
Like one thing standing in for another, in the centre of the gallery lies Holden’s dead or dreaming cartoon-self, evoking Paul Thek’s Death of a Hippie (1967), or reimagined as ‘death of a hipster.’ Adrian Searle in his Guardian review of Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape described the artist’s avatar as such. Thek referred to his self-portrait as dead hippy as ‘the thing’ and it was exhibited in a variety of metamorphosing iterations, represented at once as a self-portrait, an effigy, a cliché of his time, and an ‘idea as image’. For Holden this sculpture is the embodiment of the ‘structure of feeling’, a term from Raymond Williams that refers to the different ways of thinking vying to emerge at any one time in history, the term ’feeling’ rather than thought to signal that what is at stake may not yet be fully articulated.
Andy Holden is an artist whose work spans sculpture, large installations, painting, pop music, performance, and multi-screen videos. Holden’s artistic approach to his wide ranging subject matter could be understood as stemming from the branch of interpretation known as hermeneutics – the art of understanding and of making oneself understood. Often starting with an examination of anecdotes or small personal encounters these are then unpacked and expanded in an attempt to make sense of a larger philosophical idea.
He has recently been using the allegory of the cartoon as a way to comprehend our fragmented and illogical contemporary landscape. Specifically, how self-awareness, a vital ingredient of the cartoon law that ‘anybody suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation,’ helps us understand the world we inhabit.
Previous works have included collaborations with his father, ornithologist Peter Holden, examining our relationship with the natural world (Natural Selection, Artangel, 2017), a large knitted replica of a chunk of pyramid and a video of returning this piece of rock to the pyramid from which it was taken (Pyramid Piece, Tate, 2010), a seven-screen video installation which recreated his teenage manifesto which called for ‘Maximum Irony! Maximum Sincerity’ (Towards a Unified Theory of M!MS, Spike Island 2013), and a library of books and sculptures dedicated to the notion of ‘Thingly Time’ (Kettles Yard 2011). Holden performs regularly and releases records with his band The Grubby Mitts and runs the project space Ex-Baldessarre in Bedford. His work is included in the collection of Tate and Arts Council England.