At Toets, Lee McDonald's first solo exhibition at the Amsterdam’s Gallery Van Gelder, the fun of creating and experimenting is almost tangible.
The British artist Lee McDonald (1977) makes installations in which he experiments with mechanical processes in order to test the interaction with all kinds of materials. That may sound non-committal, but it is more wayward and more contrarian than you might suspect. While our machines and equipment excel in efficiency and functionality, McDonald's machines have no practical application at all. Completely against the zeitgeist, McDonald's does not address social abuses; it's just made for the experiment.
Kees van Gelder started his gallery in the early 1980s and in those 40 years he never chanced upon a collective. “I didn't know what happened to me. German artists unite themselves in groups, but you never see that in the Netherlands. Dutch artists prefer to work alone. The fact that this is a collective may have to do with the fact that they are all foreigners.” In addition to Brit Lee McDonald, the group consists of Kimball Gunnar Holth (Australia), Nokukhanyo Langa (USA/ZA), Salim Bayri (Morocco) and Paraskevi Frasiola (Greece).
All members of the Slaap Lekker collective studied at the Frank Mohr Institute in Groningen. From the spring of 2016 they also lived together for some time in a squat in the Vinkhuizen district.
Van Gelder was first tipped off by Lily van der Stokker, who taught in Groningen. She indicated that the class of 2016 mainly consisted of painters, however, there was one student who made 'nothing'. That intrigued Van Gelder so much that he travelled to Groningen. It turned out to be Kimball Gunnar Holth. Later Van Gelder also started working with Langa, Bayri, Frasiola and Lee McDonald.
In order to ensure that their collaboration would have a future, Van Gelder previously showed McDonald in a group exhibition and at Big Art. McDonald came up with an installation featuring a life-sized cardboard fighter jet that revolved on a cement mixer, hoping it would take off. It was a kind of test for Van Gelder.
The exhibition’s name, however, refers to McDonald's working method. He sees his works as a test. “My work is about testing and exploring the reaction of mechanical processes upon materials. I consider the work as a set of on-going experiments.” For McDonald, his tests are not so much about success or failure, but about inventing and carrying out the experiment itself. According to gallerist Van Gelder, this attitude makes McDonald freer than many of his colleagues.
Some of the installations in the exhibition consist partly of machines. Usually, it is simple motors that drive something; something that is not necessarily logical or practical. In the video work in the gallery we see, among other things, a drilling machine that McDonald glued to an old television set with duct tape, a servo motor with plastic bottles attached to it and a sand compactor.
This approach fits in well with Van Gelder's belief in what he calls practice’s generosity. “It's speculating that something might happen. Something you wouldn't do otherwise and something that can only present itself through reality. Practice gives it to you.”
This method also paid off this time. While installing the exhibition, McDonald had the idea to spray paint the windows of the gallery. The metallic pink, green and silver windows are now sold with instructions for use and certificate of authenticity.
There is also a model of a work that McDonald would like to perform someday. It consists of a miniature sand compactor with a hashtag attached to it. The idea is that when put to test the hashtag consists of neon tubes. The question is how long they will last once the sand compactor does its job. The pleasure to create and the urge to experiment are also expressed in a work that was made by a motor with spray paint on the blades. McDonald says about this: “It is not enough for a moving device to work […] there must always be an unpredictable movement in the result. Otherwise, it's just a machine doing its job". Van Gelder: “The expression and the fun remain. Even if you weren't there for the performance, you can still feel that atmosphere.”
Toets by Lee McDonald is on display at Galerie Van Gelder in Amsterdam until January 8 2022