An empty black speech bubble, borrowed from Roy Lichtenstein, hangs above the heads of gallery goers. An androgynous figure visits an exhibition in outer space. A few well-known artists meet disastrous endings. These are just some of the scenes we encounter across Arlo Mountford’s work, which centres on questions of time, history, the Western art canon and the concept of the ‘new’. As the artist discusses in our latest podcast conversation, his current exhibition, Out of Time, both revisits and extends these themes.
Taking its title from an R.E.M album, the artist’s current show begins from a simple premise: must time and history always be read as a linear progression, or can we manage to get ‘out of time’?
While the show features installation and digital drawings, at the centre sits the first chapter of the artist’s new animation work, Incongruence Prelude 1945 – 1965. As Mountford notes during our conversation, the film begins with an art gallery in outer-space and proceeds by “juxtaposing multiple canons happening at the same time and looking at the incongruity of the clash.”
In this way Mountford’s practice questions how we construct, interpret and remember art history as a single line of progressions. “If you think of history as that linear line, then you don’t need to feel responsible for it,” says the artist. “But if you do think of history as this thing that is constantly moving and needs rewriting and readjusting, then ultimately you’re responsible for that because you’re perspective sways how that can be rewritten or re-read.”
Yet as Mountford explains, there is a paradox to his practice: “While I have a desire to re-write history, I always use the canon to signpost where we are in history as well.”
Would the artist ever seek to resolve the ongoing tension between both critiquing and celebrating the art world and history? “Not really,” he says. “It’s certainly that binary that keeps the work moving.”