Dog Basket Baboon is the unusual name given by artist Oliver MacDonald, for the third Square Peg exhibition at Artlink in Hull. Featuring a busy pseudo artist studio centred around craftsmanship and weaving, plus six other playful mixed media works, including a Whirlie Wheeler.
Stopping visitors to the gallery in their tracks, is a revolving mechanical piece, hypnotic as it ceaselessly turns and despite the bright primary colours, serves to unsettle the viewer. Whirlie Wheeler encourages the audiences to consider the impact of receiving a disability diagnosis later in life.
Oliver MacDonald has a playful approach to creating art, typified by the absurd – as in the curious exhibition title – that all contribute to his very individual observations on life. The exhibition is part of a year long programme that will raise awareness and opportunities for artists with a disability. Here Oliver celebrates traditional craftsmanship whilst subverting the art of willow weaving, to create conceptual art works, that warrant closer inspection.
‘From a loaf of bread to a severed head,’ says the razor-sharp Oliver Macdonald
Woven baskets have been a constant throughout history. In the last century willow-weaving was undertaken by the war-wounded as a test case for occupational therapy, ex-soldiers suffering from the effects of war found doing basketry restorative, giving them a new skill, a sense of purpose and even a small income by selling their handiwork to the public. Today Oliver uses these traditional techniques and natural materials, to teach the art of willow-weaving to the non-disabled giving people an opportunity to reconnect with the idea of making things with your hands.
Talking about the wide range of health benefits – short and long term – that traditional crafts can bestow, Oliver describes how in an average day he might stand for no more than half an hour before needing to rest his legs, but when his mind is immersed, working with withies, he is somehow able to stand for six or seven hours at a time.
Inside the pseudo studio back at the exhibition – described by Oliver as a look at what goes on inside his mind – sits a wickerwork chair. It is one of three and part of a larger work that references Joseph Kosuth’s ‘One In Three Chairs’ the willow twigs overhang the sitter’s head and preview night 19th May, saw many people trying out the chair for size. There-in lies a clue, that pulls the threads together from the other pieces in the show, a concept known as the Goldilocks Syndrome, where everything is considered too hard, too soft, too big or small; never good enough.
Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis during the same year, as winning a place at the prestigious Goldsmiths Art School in London, Oliver struggled with the debilitating effects of the illness, then after experiencing a relapse that led him to miss a number of lectures, he had a fight on his hands to keep his place on the course.
‘First I was placed in the far corner of the room.’ Oliver experienced a sense of isolation, heightened by the issue of difficulties just accessing the building. ‘Students couldn’t use the lifts – they were just for porter usage. When I had my relapse I’d broken the three lecture rule… I was told I’d have to leave the course and repeat next year. I found students who were at those lectures, spoke to them, got the notes and caught up in my own time. I kept my place no thanks to the institution.’
This experience of institutional rigidity, politically motivated the young artist and he set about exploring ways to challenge discriminatory and preferential policies and practices throughout the Arts through his work. He thought about the principles that govern many gallery spaces and art institutions, one being the idea of viewing art without touching it. Oliver believes an artwork isn’t complete until it is seen and responded to by the viewer, but what if the artwork looked at you? What if the artwork touched you? What, if the artwork threatened you? What then?
Oliver tested this idea in dramatic fashion by vacuum-packing his fellow students and the university staff to the walls at the end of his first year. Imprisoning them, just as he had been by their unhelpful approach to his needs. This brilliant and rebellious act has lead to his name and story, becoming part of Goldsmith’s mythology and earned him a reputation for being a bit of a maverick.
Oliver adds that he had had no idea that the roof of the exhibiting space would collapse as it did – the industrial-sized balloon inflating indoors was cause for considerable alarm and distress for all present. Needless to say, the faculty heads were not amused by the jumped-up first year and his annoying displays, of independent thought and ideas.
A recent recipient of the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary award Oliver has spent the last few months at the Turner Gallery Margate as a resident artist reaching out to the local seaside community, running classes and workshops celebrating the heritage, history and benefits of traditional crafts: all the while pursuing his own renegade path.
‘I’m an artist with a disability, teaching basketry – simple manual work once thought to be the preserve of the less able and invalid – encouraging all people to be creative in 3D, learn techniques, then to go out into the world with a new appreciation for making things with your hands.’
Dog Basket Baboon is the ARMB solo show by Oliver MacDonald for Square Peg supported by Artlink Hull, Shape Arts and Hull 2017 #SquarePegHull
See lots more images from Dog Basket Baboon from Square Peg photographer Jerome Whittingham HERE
Dog Basket Baboon is open to the public 10am – 4pm from May 20 – 30 June
Artist site: www.olivermacdonald.com