Jim Lambie’s work is subversive, but playfully so. The subversion is not in the blending of aesthetic categories; artists have been crossing those lines since the days of Marcel Duchamp. Instead, his work surprises in its blithe, affectionate mix of pop culture and formalist aesthetics. His life as a rock musician and deejay on the Glasgow club scene bleeds into his sculptural objects, which are made of cast-off record covers, turntables, or posters gussied up with glitter, beads, safety pins, junk jewelry, and other cheap trimmings. They fall into the established tradition of assemblage, but lack the angst of Beat-era works by the likes of Ed Kienholz or Bruce Conner. Likewise, Lambie’s signature piece, Zobop (which has had many incarnations in various settings), is a striped floor painting reminiscent of Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings, but instead of pencil or ink, Lambie uses brilliantly colored strips of electrical tape. He lets the architecture impose its own logic on the design, rather than the other way around, building his design by working inward from the perimeter of a room to the center, following the contents of the space fluidly. The act of covering an object or space is one of ownership; he says that it also “somehow evaporates the hard edge off the thing, and pulls you toward more of a dreamscape.”1
In 2001, Lambie was invited to make a version of Zobop for the Walker Art Center’s exhibition Painting at the Edge of the World. It covered a portion of one gallery, flowing around a stairway and onto the floor of a small elevator in the corner. The installation was completed by the addition of a Psychedelic Soulstick—one in an ongoing series of sculptures that Lambie makes by wrapping yards and yards of colored thread around a bamboo stick hung with small objects. The cocooned objects are things he handles during the course of his daily life: a guitar strap, a cigarette package, socks. He often installs the Soulsticks on Zobop; they animate one another, the stripe motif migrating from two to three dimensions and back again in a pulsating shift of scale. Zobop has often been compared to a dance floor, and the addition of one of the sticks reinforces this connection by naming two popular music genres, psychedelic and soul.
The form of the Soulsticks draws on a sculptural tradition that includes Richard Serra’s lead “props” and the colored staffs made by French conceptual artist André Cadere. But perhaps the more telling allusion is to the shaman’s stick: an object used by traditional healers in many cultures as an aid in the journey from profane space to the spirit world.2 While he may be alluding to Joseph Beuys’ notion of the artist-as-shaman, Lambie brings it up-to-date: for members of his generation, deejays and musicians carry the Soulsticks, and the dance floor is one of the few places left where ecstatic self-expression is still possible.