Inside a candlelit space, twelve kinetic figures are seated around a large, wooden table. They are dressed primarily in leather, smoking cigarettes, turning their heads as conversations overlap. The table is lined with candles, an empty bottle or two and a few tiny creatures with birdlike heads. There's a child standing on the tabletop in front of a cross. This is The Last Supper, according to British scrap artist Giles Walker. It is the centerpiece of his solo show of the same name, which opens at Corey Helford's Special Exhibition Space on Saturday.
Originally from Bristol, Walker has been working with scraps for over 20 years. “It's free or cheap,” he says of the material. The artist got his start with Mutoid Waste Company back in the late 1980s, describing the group back then as an “urban traveling community.” They roamed across the U.K. and squatted in warehouses, turning them into workshops where they would build sculptures. When the famed acid house dance parties of the era moved into those off-the-radar spaces, and police stopped by to shut them down, the group had moved on to other European countries.
“We had this idea that we were going to go to the Berlin Wall and smash it with a truck. We chickened out,” says Walker. “Funny thing is the Berlin Wall came down two weeks later.” Walker spent years with Mutoid Waste Company and, while he's no longer a member, he still works with them on one or two projects a year, including their regular installation at the Glastonbury Festival.
Video of The Last Supper
With his solo work, Walker uses scrap auto parts, bird skulls and other found bits and pieces to build sculptures that frequently reflect political and religious debate. Peepshow, which features poledancing robots, and It's Business as Usual for Patricia and Monique, two robotic prostitutes hanging around a barstool, point to “voyeurism,” he says, and the controversial surveillance cameras on the streets of London, where's he has lived for the past two years. These pieces will also be on view at his L.A. show.
Walker builds the robots himself, but says he's not hugely into technology. “I'm more into the end results,” he explains. “I don't spend ages trying to work out complex ways to do it. I always try to do it the simplest way I can.”
He adds, “I make everything myself so then I can fix it.”
Up next: how he made The Last Supper
For The Last Supper, Walker dealt with so many figures that he opted not to use scraps to build the robots. “When you use scrap, you up your chances of having problems later,” he says.
There's a Jesus-like figure at the head of the table made from an old CPR dummy. The other twelve characters were built from mannequins. The adult figures sitting around the table are covered in leather to lend “a more organic feel” to the piece. It took Walker a year to complete the project, which debuted at London's Black Rat Projects earlier this year.
“The whole piece is meant to be questioning the sort of moral high ground that's given to people who practice a religion over people who don't,” Walker explains. The idea of the death penalty plays into The Last Supper, particularly the notion that people with religious beliefs would support the punishment. “I'm a non-believer and yet I find it morally unacceptable,” he states.
Religious education is a central theme to the piece. Walker himself attended Church of England schools and questions whether or not religious education is good for children. “This loving God will save you and he's happy to save, but if you don't do what he says, you will suffer eternal pain and violence,” he opines. “I don't consider that to be a good education.”
Much of the piece is animate, from the large robots to smaller figures on the table. The hardest part of the project, Walker admits, wasn't the robotics. It was the soundtrack. He spliced together bits of music, movie dialogue and bits that he wrote to create an aura of “fear and violence” while also playing upon the “good cop/bad cop” imagery that he often found in religion. The sample-based conversation concludes with a somber recitation of last meal requests from death row inmates. He was intrigued by requests for items like milkshakes and french fries. “The question is so heavy, yet the food is so everyday.”
The Last Supper raises a lot of discussion points and it's not without controversy. Walker says that there were a few people who found his work “offensive.” Not that this is any deterrence for him.
He says, “It's harmless to question things.”
“The Last Supper” opens Saturday, September 8 at Corey Helford's Special Exhibition Space, 3521 Helms St., Culver City. Tickets are free.