Mischievious and playful, Laura Keeble’s sculpture broaches political topics in a conversational way – wittily interrupting the monologue of everyday life. The London-based artist creates unsanctioned public art that is surreptitiously dropped into high profile locations. Working against traditional ideas of monumentality, Keeble’s impromptu street installations are uncertain and fleeting- questioning the presumed permanence (and authority) of sculpture.
In the 2009 project ‘Money makes the merry-go-round,’ Laura Keeble created a series of twelve paper-maché carousel horses, which she deposited directly in front of the London Stock Exchange one December morning. Playfully impaled on golden poles of alternating height, the trespassing animals were the bearers of bad news. Each was created entirely from the pages of London’s Financial Times in the midst of the recession – the garlands encircling the poles made of counterfeit currency rather than ribbon.
Keeble admits that she was first inspired to use the motif by Disney’s Mary Poppins, a fantastical film about the ‘Banks’ family that is set in a recession. She explains her home city of London as “a playground to bankers.” In this piece, the carousel is not only a symbol of the cyclical decadence of economic ups and downs, it is also a reminder of how little control the public has on this particular ride. Likewise, the artist relinquished her control of the work upon its installation, leaving its fate to the public and the proprietors of the space. “Its a bit like having an umbilical cord attached, as soon as I step away and head home the cord is cut, and I no longer own the piece.”
Set-up directly in front of the ‘Bank’ underground station, ‘Money makes the merry-go-round’ was a commuter intervention, jarring workers on their usual route and temporarily jostling them out of an expected routine. Passer-bys were free to stop and take pictures, read snippets from the papers, share a laugh or use it as a conversation starter. The artist estimates that the piece stayed up for three weeks, although a couple of horses apparently rode off along the way. Most likely the remaining sculptures were disposed of when the holiday decorations were cleared away.
Not for sale or exchange, these horses were a non-commodity, left on the steps of the stock exchange. They were a gift to the people, but underneath their cheerful exterior they smuggled in dissent (not un-like their Trojan counterpart.) This is the common threat among all of Laura Keeble’s work. Whether playfully interjecting ideas about fiscal responsibility, corporate commodification, or art-world politics her sculpture is designed to temporally derail people to ask them important questions while they are off-balance. In doing so, she shows the potential of public art to create an open discourse instead of simply commemorating or aggrandizing. Unfunded and unsanctioned, Laura Keeble’s work is a grassroots action of sorts; it is an art that invites civic participation and a perhaps even a little harmless disobedience.