Cubitt Gallery, London, 23 June – 30 July 2017
The ‘Hey Man’, as we called him, used to roam the train tracks that ran behind my house as a kid, regularly calling out a long, mournful “Heeey”. We never saw him, though we did come across a matted tangle of sheets under the adjacent bridge that must’ve been where he occasionally slept. Once, hearing his cry, I yelled a similar “hey”: he immediately returned with a shorter, almost cheery, “hey!” Maybe, I thought at the time, all he’d been yelling for was a response, for some sort of communion.
That ambiguous moment, of a shouted sharing with an unseen homeless man over 30 years ago, was just one such reverberating flashback brought forth by Mark Leckey’s concise, dense show Affect Bridge Age Regression. The gallery, thick with the trippy yellow-orange light from lamps that line highways, echoes with a chant, a chorus shouting “Out, demons, out!”, the artist calling on an unusual pantheon including Minerva, the ‘weird sisters of Albion’, the Levellers and Clement Atlee. The song is a sort of cover version and update of The Fugs’ performance Exorcising the Evil Spirits from the Pentagon, Oct. 21, 1967 (1967), though instead of anti-Vietnam War magic, this is an exorcism directed at a highway overpass, a model of which squats solidly in the centre of the room. Its small columns and surfaces are covered with tiny graffiti: Megzy, Simo, Prunes, Buddy Holly Lives. The overpass has appeared before in Leckey’s video Dream English Kid 1964 – 1999AD (2015), and is, the press release claims, modelled after an actual place, but it doesn’t matter: it’s almost innately recognisable, it could be anywhere. As the song calls to cast out this ‘cybernetic ruin’, a ‘memory palace of the underclasses’, the spell begins to work on you, the lights giving everything a halo of bright blue, as it elicits memories of all the time spent in such timeless nonspaces: sitting listlessly in the back of the car on endless roadtrips, watching street lamps go by; hanging around on blank patches of grass next to dual carriageways as a teenager, just because there was nowhere else to go. Leckey’s bridge becomes a black hole, drawing you back to the dim corners of our perpetual para-urban adolescence.
Leckey’s performative role as an artist has long been like that of an eccentric, pontificating uncle who likes to dabble in the occult, who somehow manages to make your defunct dial-up modem play an ancient hymn. Affect Bridge Age Regression is Leckey in high techno-shaman mode, tapping into the twentieth-century paradigm of the highway, that ideal for countless drifters, and – for a while – a central metaphor that let us understand the world’s connectivity (remember when the Internet used to be called the ‘information superhighway’?). Now merged into a wider network model, it would seem Leckey is attempting to discard the overpass and the highway that runs beneath it altogether. But the potency of the exhibition rests on its ability to draw those liminal moments into the weird light of the present, shouting at them to see what echoes and responses come back. We can’t deny the bridge, with all the misdirections of history that it houses, or forget those cringey teenage years; but we can face it, and say hey.
Originally published in ArtReview, Vol. 69, No. 6, September 2017