Project Native Informant

The Lamblike Cunning of Morag Keil

April 2019

In her first major solo exhibition, Scottish artist Morag Keil looks to mass surveillance and the wisdom of clones.

One of the more modest works on display at Morag Keil’s Moarg Keil exhibition at the ICA, the Scottish artist’s first major solo exhibition, is also a perfect mascot. Reap What You Sow (2014) is a small craft-project sheep sculpture stood in front of a pail full of tiny cars. There is no obvious conversation between the sheep and the surrounding works (a computer workstation showing a film about DIY porn sites, a painting of some spooky Big Brother eyes). Instead, it floats around like a forgotten toy, stood over it’s haul like a goofy angel of history. “[I] just thought sheep get a bad rep,” Keil explains, “and what if they could take power, so it’s like turning the tables.”

In her prose poem “When the Lambs Rise up Against the Bird of Prey”, Anne Boyer argues that the lamb is neither dumb nor innocent but possess an acute if often misrecognised intelligence. She writes:

The lamb knows all it knows through awareness of the patterns embedded in a generalised state of risk. The lamb’s way of sensing is a clear-minded sensing of the world as it aligns against it: demystified, dependent, and with brutality intact.

The sheep in Reap What You Sow might be a grown-up version of one of Boyer’s lambs – a creature forced to understand the world because it cannot escape it and so develops a special cunning for the way of things.

The rest of the exhibition is about what we can learn from this sheep as subjects under surveillance capitalism. Closer (2011) is Keil’s attempt at assembling a DIY sex machine, propelled by the belief that to break something down to its most simple moving parts is a pathway to understanding more complex machinery. Keil failed in her initial effort and was forced to collaborate.

In the video-game-inspired piece Dizzy (2019), we see students walk through an empty department store armed with handheld cameras. Each time another student enters the frame, the video suddenly cuts to their point of view. The result suggests both a dizzying impasse and an nascent collectivity. As we watch this looping video, the students appear to become scrambled versions of each other (a little like Keil’s misspelled name in the exhibition’s title). Like a flock of sheep, they evade capture by becoming like everything else. The first clones, Keil points out in the exhibition text, were sheep. One of them, predating Dolly, was even named Morag.

Units 1 and 3
48 Three Colts Lane
London E2 6GQ
United Kingdom

Project Native Informant will be closed for Summer Break from 27 July - 20 August 2024. 

Juliana Huxtable's solo exhibition will open 02 October 2024.

Wednesday - Saturday
12:00 - 18:00