Taking a cue from Philip Larkin’s poetry collections, The Less Deceived, The Whitsun Weddings, and High Windows, Stephen Sutcliffe’s new works have been a long time in the making and are a set of reduced and distilled video collages. These extend Sutcliffe’s longstanding obsessions with cultural confidence, social class and meditations on death and failure, and are presented in dialogue with selected videos, spanning from the early 2000s until the present.
Sutcliffe has had an ongoing engagement with literature in his practice, a strand pushed, and also complicated in this new body of work. There are immediate affinities in tone and approach between Sutcliffe and Larkin: the attempt to render a time through the lens of private experience, and the movement between troubled realism, dejection and wit. Working with the format of the short-form collaged video, Sutcliffe both channels the distinctive structure and mood of his literary references and extends them into his own distinctive language and time.
In the biography of Larkin, as with many of the writers who have influenced Sutcliffe’s work, including East German author Uwe Johnson, there is a strand of withdrawal; an active seeking out of distictively remote places, and a form of “leaning into bleakness”. There is an ambivalent life-work connection in this approach: non-participation combined with a desire for the unaffected and social portrayal of a time – an attitude and relation with visibility which would be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain in the present. Sutcliffe’s new videos I am (for the birds) and General Knowledge continue this logic of ambivalence, works that reflect with melancholy and absurdity on cultural belonging and entrapment.
High Windows, Dead Birds marks the most comprehensive presentation of the artist’s work to date, and the first in a German context, encompassing the new videos and retrospective elements, alongside spatial interventions in response to Künstlerhaus Stuttgart.
Stephen Sutcliffe (b. 1968, Harrogate) is an artist who lives and works in Glasgow. Recent solo exhibitions include: Talbot Rice Edinburgh, Hepworth Wakefield (2017); Rob Tufnell, London (2015); Tramway, Glasgow (2013); Stills, Edinburgh (2011); Whitechapel Auditorium (2010); Cubitt, London (2009); and Art Now, Light Box, Tate Britain (2005). Group exhibitions include: Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, Germany; Cubitt, London; Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon, Portugal; Gaudel De Stampa, Paris (2015). In 2018 he participated in the Manchester International Festival in collaboration with Graham Eatough on a film for the Whitworth Gallery, for which they won the Contemporary Arts Society Award. He has been shortlisted for the Jarman Award twice and in 2012 he won the Margaret Tait Award. Sternberg Press are publishing Sutcliffe at Fifty, a book on his work, and Book Works Much Obliged, a kind of autobiography, this year.