As winner of the 2016 Hayward Touring Curatorial Open I curated the exhibition Shonky: The Aesthetics of Awkwardness, which launched at the MAC in Belfast before embarking on a national tour to Dundee Contemporary Arts and Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre.

The exhibition aims to explore the nature of visual awkwardness through the work of artists and architects Arakawa and Gins; Cosima von Bonin; Niki de Saint Phalle; Benedict Drew; Justin Favela; Duggie Fields; Louise Fishman; Friedensreich Hundertwasser; Kate Lepper; Andrew Logan; Plastique Fantastique; Jacolby Satterwhite; Tim Spooner and John Walter.


Shonky is a slang term meaning corrupt or bent, shoddy or unreliable, standing here for a particular type of visual aesthetic that is hand-made, deliberately clumsy and lo-fi, against the slick production values of much contemporary art. This exhibition proposes a more celebratory definition of ‘shonkiness’, showing how it can be used for critical purposes in the visual arts to explore issues including gender, identity, beauty and the body. By drawing together artists and architects whose work has not previously been exhibited together or discussed within the same context, Shonky will allow for new ways of thinking that privilege shonkiness over other aesthetic forms that have dominated recent visual culture.


In a series of conceptual rooms, Shonky explores this aesthetic across a range of media including paintings, sculpture, video, architecture and performance. Works include Andrew Logan’s maximalist mirrored sculptures of pop-culture icons such as Divine, Molly Parkin and Fenella Fielding, a selection of paintings and lo-fi video work by pioneering artist and filmmaker Duggie Fields, and a series of small, totemic statues and works on paper by Niki de Saint Phalle. The exhibition also offers UK audiences a rare chance to see a selection of major works by American artist Louise Fishman, whose abstract works densely layer colour and texture into large-scale paintings.


A series of photographs printed onto gauze depict the hotel and thermal baths of Rogner Spa, Blumau, Styria (1993–97), and the social housing block Hundertwasserhaus (1983-85) designed by Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The images showcase the architect’s characteristic use of brightly coloured facades, sloping roofs, unique windows and spontaneous vegetation. These are shown alongside the architectural model and drawings of Inflected Arcade House by experimental architectural duo Arakawa and Gins, who believed that their unusually designed houses with features such as sloping floors, curiously shaped rooms and functionless doors could have life-extending effects on their residents.


Tim Spooner combines puppetry, magic and scientific demonstration into a large-scale ‘performed sculpture’ The Voice of Nature (2017), made up of interconnected fragile sculptures that appear to teeter on the edge of collapse. A selection of textile ‘paintings’ and large, soft sculptures by influential German artist Cosima von Bonin sit alongside Mexican-American artist Justin Favela’s Floor Nachos (2017), a site-specific installation constructed of tissue paper and cardboard that explores cultural appropriation in his adopted home city of Las Vegas. Kate Lepper’s Emergency Canisters and Leaf Preservers are reclaimed plastic sculptures that have a dual purpose of preserving and exhibiting organic matter such as dried leaves and grass clippings, that encourage the viewer to consider the relationship between humans and nature.


The exhibition also explores how shonkiness can be represented in the digital sphere in Jacolby Satterwhite’s The Country Ball (1989–2012), which fuses drawing, performance and digital technology. Using his mother’s drawings as a source material, Satterwhite builds a rich, computer-generated landscape that he combines with family video and his own live performance.


A newly commissioned performance by Plastique Fantastique will take place in each venue, drawing inspiration from the Tarot, experimental music making and the logic of the internet. Benedict Drew’s new video installation Dyspraxic Techno (2017) will overload visitors with sounds and images to create a disorientating, over-stimulating experience. Curator John Walter will present a performative installation, The Shonky Bar (2017). Designed in his distinctive maximalist aesthetic, the bar will explore Walter’s regular theme of using hospitality, play and humour as a way to engage audiences in art.

Shonky is the fourth in Hayward Touring’s series of Curatorial Open exhibitions. For Shonky, Hayward Touring have worked in partnership with the MAC, Belfast, DCA, Dundee and Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre to choose and develop the proposal, in a scheme that places collaboration at its heart, whilst aiming to nurture diverse curatorial talent and to expand the parameters of the contemporary curatorial landscape.

The exhibition was accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, designed by Fraser Muggeridge featuring an essay by John Walter and a contribution by Zoë Strachan & Louise Welsh.