‘Who Is Telling the Story and on Whose Authority?’ Brian Griffiths on his Art Lending-Library

ArtReview Can you tell me about your Brent Biennial commission, and how it fits with your wider work?

Brian Griffiths I am not sure I’m the best person to tell, to know the truth, so for openness, and possibly adventure, I may use others. 

My commission is SELF – CONSCIOUS.

We are told that there is a tall wooden cupboard in Cricklewood Library, standing somewhat incongruously. This holds nine books and nine boxed, and therefore hidden, sculptures. 

We are told when loaning one of these books a bespoke sculpture will be loaned for the same period, to be taken home.  

We are told that at the end of the loan period, the sculpture must be placed back in its box and returned with the book to the tall wooden cupboard, still standing somewhat incongruous.   

We are told that Brian Griffiths always loved a good story. He believes that stories help us to ennoble ourselves, to fix what was broken in us, and to help us become the people we dreamed of being. Lies that tell a deeper truth. 

We are told that the artist has his own agenda in the story. He may cover mistakes or downplay his successes, to do anything else is not staying in character.

We are told that he has said, ‘I am committed to a form of art that can enact rather than resolve all the binaries and contradictions that shape a life’. 


We are not told that he worries about it being an average work of art.

We are not told he is separating from his wife and doesn’t know who he is anymore.

We are not told that he has not read all the books. 


Recently, we have been told that due to the health crisis this new community library is still under interior construction and not yet operating as a library.  

The artwork is installed on site and will wait for the library to open before lending. 

So, SELF – CONSCIOUS is somewhat awkwardly on view during this wait. 

I think SELF – CONSCIOUS is a parallel lending library of nine selected books paired with sculptures. 

I think SELF – CONSCIOUS is an artwork concerned with points of view, about who is telling the story and on whose authority. It is an experiment in the persuasions and limits of a first-person narrator. An approach to cement various parts through a single focal point. 

I think SELF – CONSCIOUS sometimes believes that consciousness is a subjective autobiographical narrative of being one particular brain. Explosion.  

I think SELF – CONSCIOUS attempts to avoid singular storylines, coherent narratives and the monumental for multiplicity of voices, places and experiences. 

I think SELF – CONSCIOUS sets up a dialogue between book and sculpture, through comparisons, equivalents – perhaps unlikely partners (the cop buddy movie?) or complimentary sidekicks (like owners and their dogs?). 

I think that SELF – CONSCIOUS is a collaboration between the community of the Cricklewood library, Aravind Adiga, Sara Baume, Brett Eaton Ellis, Percival Everett, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Günter Grass, John Klassen, Mike Lester, Clarice Lispector, Percival Everett, Frank Kent and myself.   

  • Sculpture as storyteller
  • Sculpture as atmosphere setter 
  • Sculpture as a background
  • Sculpture as a possible tool 
  • Sculpture as a conversational piece
  • Sculpture as ornamental flourish
  • Sculpture as an apparatus for knowledge capture
  • Sculpture as an evidence of someone’s ambition 
  • Sculpture as a drunken lie

In my practice I have always been caught up with things – self and stuff are always mixed up. I make art to pretend to be other, in hope to be elsewhere. Explosion. 

Brian Griffiths, Homework, 2020. Courtesy the artist and Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo

AR There’s seems an egalitarian spirit to an art lending-library. Is there a political underpinning? 

BG He wants the art to hang out with interested people.

He wants the individuals borrowing the sculpture to covet it, to live with it, to care for the it. This is a game of belief and trust, of setting up particular dynamics, relations and rules – this sounds like politics to him. 

It also seeks to make space for the individual’s experience, an experience that prioritises private dialogues and internal landscapes, and events connected to feelings.  A desire to make an artwork that reflects a domestic and human scale. 

This is an approach to scatter a sculptural collection out into the local area and borough, to extend art into homes and imaginations. 

He understands Art, whether its making, viewing, and the varied networks and associations, as innately political – so no underpinning needed.  

This work in part comes out of considering, and trying to negotiate, the omnipresent and urgent discussions of identity, subjectivities, preferences, privileges, inequalities both at global societal scale and at a more intimate day to day way. Understandably contemporary art is increasingly framed and understood by biography – who you are is what you make. He wanted to find ways to attend to this, productive ways to think about this situation though making. To make alternative propositions that get messy through its multiplicity, ways of withholding and imaginative leaps. 

For him, Art has always been connected to questions of inclusion (and with this what is excluded), positions, perspectives and proximities. Tied into this is how realities are constructed, whether individually or collectively. Cultural storytelling told through sculptures or books are important parts of this. All the selected books have distinctive unreliable narrators present ornate (politicised) worlds. From Brett Easton Ellis’ misogynistic brand-obsessed Bateman’s shiny Manhattan to Aravind Adiga’s entrepreneurial Balram Halwai’s corrupt Bangalore to Clarice Lispector’s optimistic Macabéa in the poverty and brutality of Rio de Janeiro. Each world became a material to (subjectively) respond to through the creation of a sculpture. These sculptures when displayed in homes will be encountered from particular positions, in particular contexts, over particular durations.  This artwork confirms that how we navigate and understand the world, or how things communicate and ‘mean’, is always contingent on how and where we find it. Nothing is just there. Explosion. 

He always wants art to be discussive, to create doubt, as Graham Greene said ‘when we are not sure, we are alive’ – to feel, to be aware of your own thinking, your own limits and blank spots.      

AR In 2007 you made an Art on the Underground commission. Do you approach public projects any differently to those intended for a gallery setting?

BG My approach to public commissions and gallery shows are the same. I am an exhibition maker. Exhibitions are composites of various entities, agents, materials and information, which are to be directed and organised. 

This approach to art making embraces its conditions, the specificity of place and time. The settings with their particular conditions are dynamos for making the work and in many cases become material to be softly pulled into the work. 

Part of this process is often a reimagining of setting, something that exaggerates, fictionalises and makes states tangible.  With the Art on the Underground commission it became a sculptural platform game for the waiting commuters; the gallery blank spaces I  have reimagined as sci-fi voids, sites of disconnect and torture, limbo spaces for waiting and on and on. Recently in a show at the BALTIC in Gateshead called Bill Murray: A story of distance, size and sincerity, the gigantic industrial space performed as metaphysical landscape with wonky miniature Bill real estate.  

For me an artwork is not a static thing but a process, it is something that connects, associates and accumulates out into the world. Well, perhaps.

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