Photography: Gabrielle de la Puente

Mark Leckey: We Are Untitled

Output Gallery

Over the last 20 years, Wirral-born artist MARK LECKEY has made a career out of interpreting cultural movements with honesty and a subtle depth. While his work is often fun on the surface, Leckey’s talent lies in capturing the mood of the subject, offering the audience a chance to analyse as much as revel.

We Are Untitled, the 2001 film being shown in Output, is a classic example of how Leckey makes this work. The concept appears simple – footage of a party in a London flat. At the initial level, this is a document of a time and place. The fashion is comment-worthy in its own right; beanie hats and red PVC mark this out as being from another era. Leckey wanted the film to act as an opportunity to look back on a moment. But 2001 was 18 years ago, and this passage of time has made it a record of what is, to an increasing number of people, a time out of memory.

We Are Untitled’s success for today must therefore be to act as more than a piece of retro memorabilia, but as a document of the feeling of the time. So, while the fashions might be an initial talking point, it’s really a marker of what Leckey’s really interested in. There’s a performativity to the characters and their actions. The outfits, and indeed the entire party, comes across as a codified activity. The players are a mix of Leckey’s friends and hired actors, which creates another tension. Everyone’s acting casual, but with that slightly awkward air of playing to an audience. A party may be a collective activity, but the effect of We Are Untitled is that everyone is playing as individuals. The only time there’s a sense of anyone truly letting go is in the strobe flashes – the darkness and indefinability perhaps giving confidence to self-expression.

Leckey’s next show after Output will be a major exhibition at Tate Britain. It’s a recognition that, over the last 20 years, there’s been a real admiration and appetite for his culture-encapsulating work. Acting both as a nostalgia trip for those of us old enough to remember 2001, and an honest fragment of time for those who don’t, We Are Untitled is a perfect example of what this reputation has been built on and why it’s so deserved.

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