Ivars Gravlejs

MACK, 2015

ISBN 978-1910164396 Pb


Ivars Gravlejs is a Latvian artist who works through subversive, highly irreverent and often very funny artworks and actions; he seems to be the perennial schoolboy joker with a keen eye for satire and the absurd (see This black comedy of a book consists of photographs made when Gravlejs actually was a schoolboy aged between eight and eighteen, reframed within various contemporary art categories as a mock-serious study of the artist’s early development.

            The book therefore has two authors: the artist, and himself as a child. The boyhood pictures have a high-spirited if slightly manic, dark energy, as though made by a hormonally-charged Jacques Henri Lartigue after eating too much sugar. Young Ivars bunks off school, pretends to be drunk, dresses up as ‘an old stupid grandma’, play-acts sex games with a friend, photographs the girls in the school changing room, combines a picture of one of their heads with a naked woman’s body, makes collages of the chemistry teacher apparently breaking a school rule (don’t walk on the grass), takes other pictures of his teachers looking terrible, scrawls the title ‘Shit’ on a picture of his school and encourages other boys to fight for the camera.

            The subsequent reframing of these images within contemporary art categories is a brilliant conceit because so many of Gravlejs’s pranks are so very nearly credible as intentional grown-up artworks. We have performances (One Minute Sculpture, 1989: ‘I climbed on the taxi post and stayed there for one minute’), actions, conceptual art, montage, pop art, including typologies, painted-over photographs, enactments with toy models and deadpan still lives (Composition with advertisement of Ballantines, glass of water and lighting lighter, 1997). Many of these are uncannily similar to pictures by other contemporary photographers, the difference being that those other photographers expect their work to be taken very seriously indeed.