Art Now: Andy Holden at Tate Britain 8 January – 10 April 2010
The allure of the Egyptian Pyramids has long been a fascination from Sir Isaac Newton attempting to equate the value of the ancient Egyptian ‘cubit’ to Napoleon Bonaparte embarking on a military expedition in the late 1780’s. So it might seem odd that an ancient civilised emblem of superior knowledge and power should manifest itself at Tate Britain’s Art Now space. This is all thanks to 28-year old Bedfordshire based artist, Andy Holden.
When Andy was 12 he accompanied his father on a trip to Giza. No doubt in awe of the monumental pyramids, Andy sort to collect a trophy of his travels and cheekily broke a hunk of rock off the steps of the Great Pyramid also known as the Pyramid of Cheops. Desecrating one of the last remaining Seven Wonders of the World – a criminally regarded act highly looked down upon by both Egyptian and Archaeological authorities - has tormented Holden almost as long as it took to build the Pyramid and in 2008 he ventured back to Egypt to return the rock to it’s rightful home.
By way of reparation, Holden has a fellow tourist whom he met in a café document the rocks restoration. Return of the Pyramid Piece, 2008, is a 6-minute film of jolting and shaky camera movements. Viewed on a monitor you listen to the haunting soundtrack of string quintet and piano through the headphones creating a personal connection to this very personal act of recompense. Dwarfed by the steps of the pyramid, Holden scales the large stones, restlessly foraging in the multiple nooks and cracks of the limestone for a possible resting place of the guilt ridden fragment. Creating a sense of pace and urgency is the constant rattling of a marble overlaid atop of the instrumental music; time is running out for Holden to make amends with the Pyramid.
On returning from Egypt, Holden then embarked on further attempting to undo his wrong doing by way of honouring the fragment he had stolen. Transforming the small rock into a large-scale sculpture, Holden almost fills the gallery space with his knitted replica. Taking centre stage, the dusty coloured structure appears like a ships bow; majestic and imposing, the small inspirational fragment is subverted into a statement of authority. Mimicking the labour and multitude of stones it took to create the pyramids, Holden employed friends and family to knit the enormous outer woollen case that covers a foam-steal structure. Hundreds of purl stitches are imbued with repentance and the importance to understand and appreciate our surroundings.
In contrast to the monumental knitted fragment, on a low table, Holden has placed a selection of miniature souvenir Pyramids of varying size, style and colour. Some have hieroglyphic inscriptions, others are carved from semi precious stones, there is even one with a proud green ‘Made in Egypt” sticker. By exaggerating objects that we already have a formulised perception of, Holden seeks to question the ideologies we put in objects and narratives created. By juxtaposing a large stone fragment in the guise of a monstrous woolen form, with a film in which a chip of stone is treated with such reverence along with the reducing the grandest mausoleum man has ever built to a tourist trinket, we are made to confront our preconceptions and to consider if the importance we bestow is conditional. Evidently a cathartic experience, without the acts of his 12-year old self, Holden would not have been able to reinstate a seemingly irrelevant piece of stone to such majestic glory.