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.
Glasgow based artist Stephen Sutcliffe (1968, Harrogate) creates film collages from an extensive archive of television, film sound, broadcast images and spoken word recordings which he has been collecting since childhood. Often reflecting on aspects of culture and identity, the results are melancholic, poetic and satirical amalgams which subtly tease out and critique ideas of class-consciousness and cultural authority. Recent solo exhibitions include: Sex Symbols in Sandwich Signs, Talbot Rice Edinburgh; Twixt, Cup and Lip, Hepworth Wakefield (2017); Going Over, Rob Tufnell, London (2015); Workings out, Tramway, Glasgow (2013); and Cubitt, London (2009). Group exhibitions: Container and Contained, Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, Germany; Down where changed, Cubitt, London; The Reluctant Narrator, Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon, Portugal; and Gaudel De Stampa, Paris (2015). Publications include Sutcliffe at Fifty (Sternberg Press, 2019) and Much Obliged (Bookworks, 2019), a kind of autobiography.