Mark Leckey’s new film showing at Cabinet Gallery was premiered earlier this autumn at the BFI Film Festival in London. Leckey won the Turner Prize in 2008, and is an artist whose work sits in an important relation to younger practitioners in moving image.
The work that made Leckey’s name in 1999 was Fiorucci made me Hardcore – a personal journey through British dance culture starting with 70s Northern Soul and sequencing through to 90s techno and the free party scene. A certain wistfulness permeates the new work, which brackets itself between the artist’s birth date and the year the internet changed everything. Leckey’s pre-digital life, you could say.
Dream English Kid, 1964 – 1999 AD touches base with the landmarks of Leckey’s first 35 years, as well as sketching a picture of the times that is incredibly evocative for anyone who remembers Britain from the 60s on. Now able to draw down astonishing material from online sources, Leckey can paste together footage from NASA’s early failed attempts to launch inflatable media satellites in space – the technology that would eventually lead to our hyper-connected reality – with grainy colour film of crazily empty new motorways and snatches of Harold Wilson’s famous 1963 speech in which he described a Britain being forged in “the white heat of the technological revolution”. Contrast this to low-resolution panning shots of dowdy British high streets and close ups of vintage food packaging. At one point the screen goes black and before a candle is lit to remind us of the electricity blackouts of the mid 70s, a man’s voice cries out “fuck-ing hell!” in the darkness.
For all the technical sophistication of the production of this new film, Leckey vividly and tangibly communicates the grain of his experience. Over images of still-newish concrete housing blocks a woman’s voice shouts “Mark!” in a way that makes me think of trying to get a teenager off to school. There are Radio 1 jingles and the sound of the Tardis over footage of a well-scrubbed little boy in polished lace-ups and a buttoned up overcoat. One prolonged sequence repeats film of Carry On actress Liz Fraser, the type of woman who used to be described as a blonde bombshell, sitting in fishnets and basque at her wood-veneer dressing table. Leckey has manipulated the footage to surround her in a cloud of scintillating points of light, and there is fetishistic attention to the sounds of her stool creaking and the combing of her hair which recalls David Lynch.
Music also plays an important role, with the crackle of vinyl records and a soundtrack that includes Charles Aznavour’s She, as well as The Pretenders’ Kid, and a shot down the viewfinder of a TV camera with The Beatles preparing to play. The final sequences remind us of the end-of-days atmosphere of the total solar eclipse of August 1999 and the millennial fear of mass technological failure that was predicted as we counted down to midnight on the last day of December. Leckey’s new work is a compelling and distinctive visual essay, an act of memory that conjures slippery fragments of the familiar with the unfamiliar in a nuanced autobiographical mode. Somehow, perfect viewing for this moment in the year. Not to be missed.
Mark Leckey, Dream English Kid 1964 – 1999 AD, Cabinet, 49-59 Old Street, London EC1V 9HX. Open Thursday – Saturday 12.00 – 18.00. Exhibition continues until 19 December 2015.www.cabinet.uk.com