GAO Gallery presents the second solo show by British artist Daniel Burley (born 1992, London). The exhibition features a series of three sculptures made over the last year that use the folkloric character of the goblin as a motif. Daniel’s practice up to this point has engaged in exploring his biography and family history through a colourful and sometimes sinister language, taking in a diverse range of influences from early 2000s aesthetic sensibilities to esoteric hobbyist pursuits like Warhammer. The Intricate Life Habits and Rituals of the Goblin (2021) sees Daniel begin to refine an approach to novelty world building as a medium and use goblins as a conceptual and aesthetic framework to explore and carry a series of formal and narrative concerns and unlikely networks of association.
Daniel’s depictions of goblins are more sympathetic than their traditional representations as evil or malicious characters in European folklore. In a series of dramatic tableaux they engage in activities which might be associated with children. One peers over a log playfully, kicking his feet in the air in infantile fascination, another kneels daintily to collect flowers in a wicker basket. They are shown as societal outsiders of sorts, scavengers with clothes that are pieced together from scraps and adorned with patches that are in some instances reminiscent of band memorabilia. There’s something of the old metalhead to them, still wearing their favourite Metallica or Iron Maiden t-shirt years past the tour. Daniel has said to me that the exaggerated stitching along the seams of the goblin’s clothing could be considered analogous to other instances of boundaries being crossed, broken or adjoined like the movement of a spider across a piece of clothing and onto the skin, the breaking of a stem when picking a flower, or the way subcultural groupings influence each other. Perhaps the goblins could be seen as symbols of the fetishistic impulse that fuels all subculture. Evocations of some spirit of the super fan who stitches together a hybrid identity from the detritus of this or that cultural phenomenon that they worship, adjoining boundaries of genre and style along the way.
A bunching up, or swelling at the boundaries is present elsewhere in the show too. In the first room the three sigils seem to extrude from the wall, distorting the literal boundary of the white cube. It is as if to suggest that it is being transformed by the presence of the goblins. Daniel is aware of the ways that fictional worlds subsume the things that surround them. The bins in Disneyland take on the style of the area of the park they are in. The sigils are made of cheap ply and painted hastily as if made by the goblins. It is at the boundaries of the identity of the world-being-built and it’s context that strange mutations take place and something novel appears.
This rubbing between the boundary of the world of the goblins and ours plays out again through Daniel’s arrangement of the sculptures. Placing them in the centre of the room at a diagonal he calls into question the status of the figures as objects. This is the kind of ordering we see in a domestic setting. The careful arrangement of the collector placing their tabletop miniatures or figurines on the mantle. We have had this kind of exploration of the kitsch from Koons, but there is something else going on here too. One could draw a connection between these lower aesthetic forms and the idea of goblins being reproached by their respective society. The kitsch subverts and destabilises assertions of what is tasteful just as the goblins embody a state of dis-identification through their multiple, fragmentary, identifications (as folkloric trope, childlike innocent, cultural scavenger, etc.). We see this tension between the authentic and the inauthentic again in Daniel’s depictions of nature. The psychedelic flowers and mesmerising log are evocative and plastic. The artist has an interest in the ambiguity between the natural and the artificial. How, just as we might find that things we make can be influenced by nature, our constructions can alter our perceptions and estrange us from the possibility of the natural.
Daniel’s use of goblins as a conceptual and aesthetic ground function like a cartoon franchise or certain kinds of myth. The references to Warhammer, his family and 2000s fashion have all been estranged from their connections to the world we know. The world of the goblins has subsumed and co-opted them. This is only the first public iteration of the goblin world (the show was inspired by an as yet unreleased goblin themed album) so it remains to be seen how it will develop and it’s longevity. What is clear is that the goblins have allowed for Daniel to consolidate the formal and narrative experimentation that was present previously in his work.
The Intricate Life Habits and Rituals of the Goblin is partly based upon a currently unreleased novelty album by Daniel Burley of the same title. Each of the songs is titled after a significant habit or event in an imagined goblin life cycle. The show is the first stage of a project in which Burley hopes to generate a goblin sculpture for 20 of the 23 album tracklist, resulting in a final exhibition of 20 goblins expressing a variety of emotions and activities.
Opening Reception: Sunday 6th June, 12-6PM.
Wednesday–Saturday, 7 June – 28 August 2021.