Deep Inside, a solo exhibition by London- and Belfast-based artist Keef Winter, took place in Mexico City’s Galeria Breve from January 28 to February 20, 2016. The show brought together an installation of sculpture, photography, object assemblage and a live performance on the evening of the opening. Often placed between the context of workshop and exhibition, Winter’s practice seeks to embody a state of transformation that is birthed from symbolic and physical enactments of rupture.
Winter, who is also participating in the Salon Sebastian Monteux event and performance series opening with this year’s Glasgow International running April 8 to 25, released a trailer before Deep Inside. It combined references to DIY and slick music video aesthetics where he hammered a steel box to the rhythm of an electro pop soundtrack by his musical act, Handyman. In the video the male artist’s body is put under spotlight by the monochrome background and romantic vibes given off by a smoke machine. Winter performed this piece live at Breve, which he touches upon in the conversation with Horcasitas below in relation to music and ‘object titles’.
Installed in the gallery itself and sat beside two pink and white steel sculptures called ‘High Street Girls’, some boxes act as vessels inside which stories are buried. Mimicking the same rectangular shape, a cut out in the wall houses a small collection of rocks that the artist gathered from various sites, including the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland. The assemblage connects itself to the mysticism of ancient stories and the energy they claim to store.
In the back corner of the room, a string of LED lights spell out in a ‘Martillo’ (the Spanish word for hammer) in cursive, handwritten-style lettering. The purple hues make the surrounding area glow, setting the scene for work ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in which a beaten steel tin sits on top of a wooden pine frame, both placed on wheels. A sledgehammer lies in front, and the shabby and fragile monument seems to become a humorous ode to the preparation stages of construction, where technicians and their tools are involved in ‘getting the job done’.
There is one photograph in Deep Inside titled ‘Riot Run’ and it shows a barricade of police holding shields. It implants itself like a heavy burden amongst the rest of the exhibition, which fluctuates between spiritualism and dry comedy. Winter’s interest in surface and confrontation is expanded in the press release, which acknowledges his upbringing in Belfast and the connection he had to “elaborate structures called ‘peace walls’ [that] divide communities and are always the first point of impact in a conflict”.
In the run up to the Salon Sebastian Monteux exhibition and performance series at Glasgow International, the artist shares with aqnb an interview conducted between himself and curator Violeta Solís Horcasitas before the Deep Inside exhibition, outlining an exhibition concerned with organic forms and natural structures, scale, architecture, and abstraction versus function:
Violeta Solís Horcasitas: I am interested in the way you move from one medium to another. There is a kind of alchemy in this movement; for example, the energy of music transmitted to metal.
Keef Winter: This exhibition is a mixture of two overlapping practices: live music that I produce and the hammering of steel boxes that I fold and weld together in my studio. In this case I’m a drummer who has replaced sticks for hammers. The brief spout of this drumming energy on steel manifests itself as a live performance and an altered object, one that has a music track hammered into it. Maybe a hammer can transfer the energy of a snare drum into a dent?
VSH: What interest do you have in combining organic forms and natural structures into your artistic process? Could you talk about the abstraction of these forms in your work? More specifically, could you talk about the ‘allotropes’?
KW: Allotropes relate to some structural forms I have cast in plaster and concrete, and also built much larger in metal frames. Allotropes by definition are different structural combinations of the same element. ‘Rhombic Sulphur’ is a shape I use a lot. It is an allotrope of sulphur and is shaped similar to Brancusi’s ‘Endless Tower’ shapes but I stack them differently. Diamond and graphite are two allotropes of carbon and can perform different applications. In terms of scale, everything in nature is made up of smaller structures. Often these smaller elements are simple and strong in shape when combined. I’m interested in how these micro-components can be scaled up again, retaining this reduced form, to hint at becoming much larger structures.
VSH: I see a very clear relation between the nature structures (allotropes) and architecture in your work. Is this one of your intentions? To explore the intimate and internal constitutions of materials vs. the space they can construct?
KW: Yes, I’m interested in the structural nature of material, it’s form and what it can achieve when the basic unit of it is scaled up and enlarged. Natural structures have a function whether it’s a molecule or a tree canopy. I’ve built some big stuff before, with and without function. Abstraction versus function is an age-old question in sculpture, and I guess these questions blur the boundaries between sculpture, design and architecture. It’s fun to build a structure that compliments, interferes, disturbs, fucks with the space where it is shown and with the people who experience it.
KW: Usually I choose an upbeat track I’m in to at that time and bash up the welded boxes wearing headphones, but in the last few months I’ve been producing music under the moniker Handyman and playing a bunch of live shows at house parties and project spaces. This currently revolves around a live drum kit, live vocals, a bass-heavy backing track and different sizes of hammers to drum on some steel. At Breve I’ll hammer one of these boxes live at the opening. The track titles often become the object titles and the drumming lasts as long as the track. In this case the works were hammered listening to Handyman tracks with titles such as ‘High-Street Girl’, ‘I’m Squatting in your Condo’, ‘Tickling a great white shark’ and ‘Sooo Dangerous’.
The show is called Deep Inside, named after the 1993 house track by Hardrive. To some degree I see the sculptural outcome of the powder-coated boxes as a reflection of the impact seen in anarchic urban situations —the destruction of a fence or hoarding, a petrol bomb to a peace wall, a brick to a riot shield, a smashed shop window in a protest —the surfaces that are always the first to get hit.
VSH: What work will you present at the Breve show?
KW: I will ship some sculptures made in London for the show, build a site-specific installation, and present a performance. Five sculptures will be hand-hammered powder-coated boxes, and one of them will be hammered for the performance the day of the opening. Also I will bring a pile of small rocks collected from particular areas in the world including a place in Northern Ireland called the Giants Causeway. I feel like these rocks have some magic inside them.**
Header image: Keef Winter, Deep Inside (2016). Handyman performance view. Courtesy the artist + Galeria Breve, Mexico City.