The research for this solo exhibition in Wolverhampton returned to a series of ideas first examined in Where is the Work? (2004), exploring the commonly held assumptions about the role of the gallery and exhibition spaces, and what is commonly thought to constitute a work of art. The material substance of the exhibition centred on coal as a renewable energy source that had originally sustained the Industrial Revolution in the West Midlands.
By focusing on the functional apparatus generally required for gallery displays, The Lion and the Unicorn inverts what defines the perceptions and constituent elements of an artwork. Structural limitations and legislative requirements became the focal points of this invited installation. Cornford & Cross commissioned a structural engineer to ascertain the maximum safe load that the gallery floor could bear and consulted regularly with health and safety officers as to the minimum legal width for a safety access way through the gallery. The material form of the installation was then determined by these fixed limitations and consisted of 14 tonnes of coal mined from the region tipped onto the gallery floor.
By choosing not to use the gallery walls or any lighting, the installation forced the viewers to engage in a more sensory experience. The smell of the coal and the darkness of the room referenced Wolverhampton’s past role in the mining industry and provided a visual and visceral encounter with contemporary concerns about the current limits of industrial growth, the cost, and the finite limits of fossil fuels and their environmental impact.
Funded by Wolverhampton Art Gallery, the exhibition received 31,250 visitors and was reviewed in local, regional and national newspapers. It was also presented as part of a series of conference papers presented at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Aberystwyth University and the British Library.