Anthony Key: Walcot Chapel

Anthony Key plays with these often absurd perceptions. He is interested in those curious, irrational spaces in which ‘Chinese’ stereotypes germinate and flourish. His work is frequently poignant, always original and consistently daring in the ways in which it unpicks and unpacks the racism and absurdities of our ‘Chinese’ stereotypes. Yet there is much more to Key’s work than this. It is, in its own decidedly modern way, celebratory of the mixed-upness which is 21st century Britain in particular, and the word in general. After all, ‘China’ no more comprises an homogenised mass of similar-looking people, than Europe does, or Africa does. Key himself is singularly symbolic of this mixed-upness, this resistance to racial neatness. He was, to quote Susan Pui San Lok, “Born in South Africa and resident in Britain since 1972, [he] does not hesitate to call himself ‘British-Chinese’. Not to assert a fixed position, but rather to interrogate the conflicts and ambiguities within and between this conjunction of terms.”

In some ways, Key’s work echoes some of the playfulness, poignancy and startling originality of the American sculptor and mixed media artist David Hammons. Who else but Key would have the originality of thought (not to mention the audacity) to make a sectional, scaled down replica of the Great Wall of China using as bricks plaster casts of the tin foil food containers dearly beloved of Chinese take-aways? In that work, titled Great Wall, Key animates our fears and our conceptions of space, territory, boundaries and presence, as we apply them to our stereotypes about the ‘Chinese’ people and how we collapse a universe of historical and contemporary understanding into two almost trite mindsets. One, that we can get a ‘Chinese’ whenever we fancy one, because there’s one at the end of the street. And secondly, that at school, we learned that somehow, somewhere in history – we know not when, but that’s hardly important to us – the ‘Great Wall of China’ was built – though again, we know not why. It is this profound ignorance of the latter – symbolic of our stereotypes of China in general, married to the familiarity and mundanity of the former – the Chinese takeaway – that provided Key with such fertile ground in which to build his own Great Wall. And of course, the location of the work within an art gallery provided yet more fascinating readings that impact on how we perceive and navigate the gallery environment.

The above extracts are from a catalogue introduction by Eddie Chambers, for Anthony Key: Walcot Chapel, Bath Spa, September 24 - October 19, 2002

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