Informing the Hayward Gallery of his expectations for his new show, David Shrigley said: “The responses I would like are laughter, intrigued confusion and disquiet” – in no particular order. Mordant, absurd, utterly meaningless, profound and hilarious, all at once and all the time, his latest solo exhibition, and accompanying catalogue Brain Activity, is exactly what you’d expect from Shrigley – in the best way possible.
A giant finger, cast out of bronze and as a tall man greets you as you exit a lift that has been playing something dear diary-esque of a Scottish monkey. To the right, rooms called Headlessness, Everyday Life and Death – in the latter you’ll find the showpiece of the exhibition.
The taxidermy performed on a Jack Russell may be the result of an artist who can’t entirely remember what a dog looks like, though his placard speaks a bigger truth: “I’M DEAD.”
You must internalise any excitement at getting to touch one of the pieces though, it’s just not that sort of place. You’re expected to laugh out loud, however, but you must also make your laugh more “huh huh” than “ha ha,” to match Shrigley’s dark humour.
The show continues; excellent large scale pieces, animations, abstract paintings, ceramics and in one of the last rooms, after going through Drawing, Relationships and Misshapen Things, you will stand like gods and look at a small world with a black moon and hundreds of metal stick creatures of various sizes having sex or fighting or whatever. Just imagine Shrigley’s drawings made real and they couldn’t be better.
This part, Insects, has a small opening at the base of a gallery wall leading back into the exhibition that you half expect the sculptures to escape through. Instead, when I was there I saw an older man crawl through it and the scuff marks on the wall told me he wasn’t the first.
The show is full of pleasingly morbid absurdity – not at all nihilistic but totally empathetic with the universal desire to laugh at our own human inadequacies and the inexplicable way we make totally non-significant things so important (and vice versa.)