Objects and bodies in Michael Landy's Shelf Life

Crisp, Lindsay Polly (2024). Objects and bodies in Michael Landy's Shelf Life. In: Mohan, Urmila ed. The Efficacy of Intimacy and Belief in Worldmaking Practices. Routledge, pp. 58–72.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003409731-5


In his installation artwork Semi-detached (2004), the British artist Michael Landy staged a spectacular encounter between the architectural culture of his working-class background and that of the art establishment, exhibiting a full-sized reconstruction of the pebbledashed house in which he grew up in the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain, London. This chapter brings three artworks associated with Semi-detached—two drawings in colour pencil, Ulceration on the Lateral Margin of Left Foot and Peripheral Vascular Disease II (2004), and a photographic collage, Study for Shelf Life (2004)—into conversation with Mohan’s concept of efficacious intimacy. These artworks respond to the belongings, body, and home of the artist’s father John Landy, who acquired lifelong disabilities following an industrial accident. Study for Shelf Life depicts the bricolage of stuff assembled on and around a shelf in John Landy’s bedroom. This image prompts an enquiry into bodily-and-material meaning-making practices that work between pragmatic and symbolic, storage and efficacy, asserting the beauty and significance of the keeping and arranging of material belongings. In parallel, Landy’s act of drawing his father’s painful foot emerges as an efficacious practice of being with, and attempting to comprehend, the pain of another.

Content note: This chapter discusses pain, disease, and medical treatment, including an image, some detailed descriptions, and brief mentions of violence, torture, and industrial accidents.

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