21 February - 18 May 2014

Simon Starling: In Speculum

Simon Starling is a British conceptual artist. He won the Turner Prize in 2005 for Shedboatshed, a project that involved taking a wooden shed, turning it into a boat, sailing it down the Rhine, then turning it back into a shed. In Speculum is his first Australasian survey exhibition.

Starling explores the legacies of modernism and globalisation by addressing the peculiar histories surrounding specific objects and sites of art, design, and science. His erudite works address transformations and transmissions across time and space. But, as much as they bookishly mine historical backstories, there is always something unexpected, excessive, witty, perverse, serendipitous, convoluted, counter-intuitive, or crafty about them. Although they are based in fastidious research, there is often madness in their method.

The exhibition takes its title from two new Starling works—the photographic series In Speculum (Great Melbourne Telescope) and the video installation In Speculum (Studio Edit). These works developed out of the artist’s encounter with the nineteenth-century’s Great Melbourne Telescope, currently being restored in Melbourne's Museum Victoria. In the photographs, pieces of the telescope are reflected in its massive mirror (which is made of speculum metal—a bronze alloy). It is as if the telescope had been turned back onto itself, and is no longer exploring the heavens, but rather itself. The show is full of examples of such circular logic.

Another theme subtly links the works in the show. They are all concerned with studios or workshops—places of making. One work links a famous writer’s desk, a famous artist’s studio, and three cabinetmakers’ workshops. Others involve a mask maker’s studio, an old-school film-editing suite, a metal-working workshop, and Starling’s own artist’s studio. The physical processes associated with these places are offered as analogies for ways of conceptualising the world.

Hear more from Starling in this video interview.

Simon Starling was born in Epsom in England but lives and works in Copenhagen. He studied photography and art at Maidstone College of Art, Trent Polytechnic Nottingham, and Glasgow School of Art. Since his first solo exhibition at the Showroom in London in 1995, his work has been widely exhibited in the UK and elsewhere and is in the collections of museums such as the Tate, London; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Solomon R. Guggenheim Musuem, New York; Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterlo; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In 2004, he was shortlisted for the Guggenheim's Hugo Boss Prize. Simon Starling is represented by the Modern Institute, Glasgow; Casy Kaplan, New York; Franco Noero, Truin; and Neugerriemschneider, Berlin.

In Speculum is a partnership project between Melbourne's Monash University Museum of Art, Brisbane's Institute of Modern Art, and City Gallery Wellington.