Loose Change: Joe Sweeney

14 December 2017 - 13 January 2018 Gallery Exhibitions

Cob Gallery presents Joe Sweeney’s second solo exhibition 'Loose Change', which features new sculpture, print and light works.  ‘Loose Change’ compounds Sweeney’s poignant, often black-humoured excavation of a prosaic British grittiness and is presented as an all encompassing installation born from his obsession with the mundane.   


Sweeney appropriates from a visual language derived from the ‘everyday', through which he seeks to immortalise peculiarilties typical of British behaviour, both public and domestic. Many of the works on exhibit sees Sweeney borrowing the words from signs synonymous with Britain’s high streets and markets. In both their titles and aesthetic, Sweeney seeks to highlight absurdities in the colloquial through the prism of grassroots British consumer culture. In this way, Sweeney invents a typography of our time – using newspaper cuttings and signs that he has collected, to execute a thorough exploration of the relationship between word and image. 


His sculptures emerge as relics of a particular type of fading visual landscape, and , through quick observation, Sweeney’s work is an ode to the detritus left behind in the wake of sweeping gentrification. Sweeney’s search for the poignant hidden in the banal is amplified in various works on exhibit, from the enlarged isolated words lifted from calling cards to capturing an ethereal beauty in the plaster casting of a plastic bag. 


Sweeney continues a tradition of transgression and enters into the realm of the defining tenets of performance art using himself and the everyday. ‘The Worlds Your Oyster Card’ Is a life sized sculptural work, where Sweeney is literally defined by the capital transactions that he ingests, using paper receipts as the material of a handmade suit. 


Curator Jessica Draper says: "Reflecting the title of the show ‘Loose Change’, we are reminded of the concept of the ‘leftover’. The remnants of the paper note, the coins that will never lose their value to someone purely for their material worth, which are part of a clunky British rhetoric Sweeney continues to explore”


At its very core, Sweeney’s works harbour a poetic irony inspired by British identity- he further explains- “We seem to operate in this realm of melancholy which creates quite a sardonic point of view, it’s hardy and it’s witty. And maybe a sense of morbidity, bolstered by our obsession with nostalgia, which I think partiuclarly reflects our hardwiring as an island nation with tempestuous weather”. 


‘Loose Change’ includes a self-titled, limited edition artist’s book, which is an assemblage of Sweeney’s original works and poetry set within his collection of found imagery.  The book includes artwork from Janet Milner, photography from Kingsley Ifill and Tom Beard, and essays from curator Jessica Draper and writer Harriet Verney.  Excitingly, ‘Loose Change includes a poetic contribution from ‘living sculptures' Gilbert & George, drawing on the parallels between their own work and Sweeney’s. The book also features a hand screen printed cover. 


This compilation of materials, references and studio photography, arranged by the artist, offers a insight on his practice and aesthetics, both immediate and subliminal.  


"Sweeney’s work tells the tale of transgression, social transgression and our struggle with it. I guarantee you’ll never look at a shop sign the same way. Hanging meat wont make you gag and the 5p bag becomes novel not a nuisance….. It oozes emotions that go far beyond a cheap laugh. Solidarity, acceptance, banality and ‘throw-away’ life echo loudly in his work. From Camp to Corner shop, to a man whose life’s legacy is his just his Tesco Express receipts. It’s funny yes, easy to chew, yes. But digesting it engulfs you in an unidentified feeling, think hard enough and his work can be uncomfortable to stare at.” 


Harriet Verney