Vicinities: Anthony Key

The first piece of Anthony Key’s work that I saw was, appropriately enough, ‘Great Wall’. The work, part of an exhibition titled ‘Empire and I’, consisted of a sectional, scaled down replica of the Great wall of China, using plaster casts of Chinese take-away tin-foil food containers as bricks. ‘Great wall’ was, to my mind, a most astonishing and accomplished piece of work. As I wrote in the introduction to the publication accompanying Key’s Walcot Chapel exhibition, I was particularly struck by the extent to which it animated “our fears and our conceptions of space, territory, boundaries and presence, as we apply these things to ‘our’ stereotypes about the ‘Chinese’ people, and how we collapse a universe of historical and contemporary understanding into two almost trite mind-sets. 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”.

…With the obvious exceptions of Sinophiles, we are as a nation profoundly ignorant of china’s history, its culture, and the existence of its diaspora. It was this ignorance and stereotyping of China, married to the familiarity and mundanity of the take-away, that provided Key with such fertile ground in which to build his own ‘Great Wall’.

…Exhibitions in Walcot Chapel that have tended to shine have been installations which have in some way referenced the history, architecture or function of the building and its graveyard surroundings. And so I should not have been surprised when Key, on visiting the empty space, eventually decided to produce a giant Buddha, made – like ‘Great Wall’ before it – from many hundreds of bricks cast from tin-foil containers. This was to be no easy operation, calling as it did for considerable degrees of skill, accuracy and resourcefulness in the construction of the Buddha.

… In reality, however, the ‘Bath stone’ references were not particularly strong and were probably lost on the majority of visitors to the exhibition. To achieve the ‘Bath stone’ effect, Key had sprayed the finished construction with a solution of tea. But this gave the Buddha a mottled, speckled effect rather than a look of ‘Bath stone’. We had, however, installed some very effective lighting, which gave it a rich warm glow…

…But Key was keen for his Buddha to do more than simply or merely blend in perfectly. The Buddha existed as a means of critiquing that which surrounded it, not merely to become a polite part of it.  

The above extracts are from "Anthony Key", a text by Eddie Chambers that appeared in Vicinities: The Collision of the Global, the Intimate and Identity, published by Creative Arts, University of Bath, circa beginning of 2003.