Simon Starling’s Chinese Whispers

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Simon Starling, Three White Desks

Have you ever played Chinese Whispers? A message is repeated from one person to another to another to another, until it becomes truly garbled. In Three White Desks, Simon Starling took a similar track. He got three cabinetmakers in different cities to remake an old desk. The first remade it from an archival photograph. He then took a photo of this desk and send it to another cabinetmaker. They remade it from the photo, and made a photo of their desk and sent it to another cabinetmaker. And so on.

Starling ended up with three desks: a copy, a copy of a copy, and a copy of a copy of a copy. It’s amazing to see how quickly the desk was transformed, losing its shape, texture, and character. Significantly, the desk in the very first photo was made in London around 1932, by a young Francis Bacon (not yet the expressionist painter he would become), for the expatriate Australian writer Patrick White.

Written by City Gallery's chief curator, Robert Leonard

Simon Starling: In Speculum, until 18 May 2014.