Last chance saloon. Mark Leckey in Manchester.

Susie Stubbs

Mark Leckey’s super-sonic art exhibition is in its final weeks – see it now, plus a chance to win a signed poster.

Mark Leckey is the sort of artist who both attracts and defies labels. He’s a Turner Prize winner whose work has been snapped up by the Tate, and his exhibition in Manchester comes fresh on the heels of a show at the Serpentine. And yet despite being part of the establishment, Mark Leckey is not at all what you might expect.

For a start, his attitude to contemporary art is refreshingly honest. In an interview in 2008, for example, he worried about its over-intellectualisation. “What gets in the way is being too clever,” he said, “or worrying about how something is going to function, or where it’s going to be. When you start thinking of something as art, you’re fucked: you’re never going to advance.”

Leckey’s work sums up this contradiction. The exhibition in Manchester, for example, consists of only two works: a video work and a sound sculpture. It is this latter piece, called BigBoxIndustrialAction, which first greets you. A three-tonne chunk of rusting steel sits opposite a speaker stack. Both are dwarfed by the acres of otherwise empty gallery space, and on first glance this is a show that looks all style and no substance. But then the speakers start ‘serenading’ the chunk of steel – which turns out to be a section of a 19th-century steam chest – and everything changes. The floors vibrate; the noise is deafening. The building responds, if only by shaking gently.

The idea is to bring this relic from the region’s glorious Industrial Revolution back to life. The speakers sing to it; Leckey hopes it will start communicating back. “It’s trying to make something inanimate become animated,” he says.

Local history matters to Leckey. He’s a local lad (well, local-ish, from Ellesmere Port), and like anyone who grew up round these parts, for him the dance culture of the 1980s and 90s still resonates. That influence is writ large in the video work, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore. Made up of footage of nightclubs and raves – young people off their faces, dancing like loons – the whole piece is randomly spliced, jerking between one party here, another rave there. As with BigBox, a soundtrack unifies what we see, and what we see here is strangely moving. Yes, the young people in it are young and possibly stupid, but there is something rather hopeful about them. Or perhaps that’s just nostalgia talking.

Whatever, this is one exhibition worthy of your time. As curator Matthew Higgis said of Leckey’s work, it possesses a “strange, non-art-like quality, operating, as it does, on the knife’s edge where art and life meet”. In other words, forget the labels. This is all about the experience.

Win a signed poster, produced especially for the exhibition in Manchester and worth £50 – hop on over to our competitions page to be in with a chance.

Mark Leckey: Work & Leisure, Manchester Art Gallery, until 18 March, free. Words: Susie Stubbs. Images (top to bottom): BigBoxIndustrialAction (2012), Mark Leckey, installation view.

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