Stephen Sutcliffe mines cultural history of the last fifty years, pulling out the awkwardness of the archives of culture with a tender heart. Obsessively cutting statements from literature, theatre, film and television, the artist hoards material to re-present it in juddering, cut-up videos that shine with the brightness of glimpsed moments caught unexpectedly on a late night television.
Runaway, Success is a major new exhibition commission by Stills, curated by Lisa Le Feuvre, on the occasion of the 2011 Edinburgh Arts Festival
New work by the artist is shown alongside ten of his videos made over the last eight years and, invited by Sutcliffe, a selection of rarely seen, but much referenced, films by the American filmmaker Gary Conklin. This Festival exhibition launches a new Stills exhibition programme strand where artists are commissioned to both make a new work and to invite points of reference into Stillsʼ gallery spaces.
Sutcliffe is fascinated by the idea of high culture and its representation in film and on television. His work turns to figures emblematic of what it means to possess ʻcultureʼ; people with sharp wit, short tempers and voices of authority: figures from Kenneth Williams to Morrissey, Alan Bennett to Saul Steinberg, Peter Sellers to Walter Sickert. Runaway, Success concentrates on Sutcliffeʼs interest in the power of doubt and explores the ways in which the idea of what it means to be ʻculturedʼ is constructed, represented and contested.
Several monitors on plinths show his work from the last eight years, each screen triggering the next in a carefully orchestrated rhythm. Two large-scale photographs based on and styled following theatrical publicity shots have been made especially for Runaway, Success. Like the newspaper cartoon, the theatre still is a concise instant collapsing complex narratives into a single frame. A series of thought bubble floor and wall drawings spread through the upper gallery space of Stills, each one stricken through as if these might be ideas rejected. Sutcliffe has asked Conklin to screen four feature-length documentary films, screened at specific times each day. Conklin proclaims that he makes ʻfilms about people I've always wanted to meet and places I've always wanted to goʼ turning to, and creating, cultural icons such as Paul Bowles to Louise Brooks, Gore Vidal and Christopher Isherwood, many of whom have held a long fascination for Sutcliffe.
In both the new commission and his short videos Sutcliffe focuses on fissures of self doubt that undermine the confidence of iconic individuals, revealing their failing as the root of their power. Obsessed by autobiographies of ʻculturedʼ figures, Sutcliffe seeks out the self-construction that forms these ʻculturedʼ icons, and how film, music and television have come to represent high culture as an attitude that can be adopted with ease, pointing to the self-conscious pleasure that conspicuous cultural consumption brings.
In asking what culture might be, Runaway, Success asks questions of the difference between the idea of culture and culture itself, proposing that the experience of art is embedded in the way in which we understand our place in the world through culture itself.