Cullinan Richards

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Nov 2005  Jan 2006

Unusable Retrospective

Artlab Cullinan + Richards

Ibid Projects, Vilnius


Cullinan + Richards started Artlab in 1998, working together on several ‘virtual exhibitions’ presented on an A1 plan with scaled down paper versions of their paintings and sculptures. The importance of a situation to operate within, and a use for an artwork, formed a crucial/critical aspect to their partnership from the beginning.

Large sculptural wooden platforms on which to show work and host events followed: ‘Advantage’, built for the RCA ‘Democracy!’ show in 2000 is an example. At this stage Cullinan + Richards wanted to create support structures that were both sculptural and metaphorical, with flexible multi functions. These structures would work as a sculptural product for Artlab, and also serve as a way of showing smaller objects of theirs in a specific context, and other artists’ work.

From the start Cullinan + Richards used documentation and photography as a way of exploring a fictional history for pieces of work while also using photographs for recording pieces that were impossible to keep or lost work. The Marks & Spencer project, started in 2000, exists only in photographs, which both document the piece and are the product.

The concept of documentation overlapped into their paintings in a solo show at Mobile Home Gallery in 2004. For ‘Artlab Especial’, Cullinan + Richards made a cluster of paintings which documented past performance events (such as the pistol range sculptures) and other sculptures. A smaller version of this cluster of paintings was shown at the Whitchapel Gallery for ‘Edge of The Real’ also in 2004.

In recent shows (Serbia, Vancouver,) Cullinan + Richards have developed the platform sculptures into outdoor HQ’s for Artlab and picnic areas for beer drinking. For ‘Leaps of Faith’ Cyprus, May 2005, another larger platform was constructed, this time totally painted in brown stripes, which allowed a view into a shop that had been closed since the 1974 division of Nicosia.

Their signature brown and white striped fabric and sculptures series started with a large desk made for InIVA in 2002. Inspired by a Gio Ponte design from the 1930’s, the series now includes two easy chairs, two chandeliers, two reception tables, and one smaller light.

The way the new paintings and sculptures are now being used (ex: Independent Republic at MOT, 2005) reconnects conceptually to the original paper ‘virtual situations’ with their interest in filmic scenarios and a desire to activate their product. Using titles and description to propose situations invades a layer of truth about the history and provenance of an art object, and relates to how that object might be used independent of inherent meaning.


At the final exhibition from their programme at Imperial College London Artlab were invited to design the exhibition of the ‘CURATING Degree Zero Archive’ compiled and devised by Barnaby Drabble and Dorothee Richter. Artlab produced a large display of brown and white usable sculptures to support and organise the archive into 5 suites. The Artlab programme was brought to a sudden and fortuitous close after a backdoor takeover from arch conservatives at the RCA putting an end to radical experimentation or at least open experimentation. The IC programme had been founded on mutual use of the art work and a belief in radical processes including artistic collaboration. However the life of such interventions is inevitably short notwithstanding the boardroom conspiracies and parallel agendas (including ours).


The name - Unusable Retrospective – has been specifically chosen because retrospectives are traditionally fairly usable, as a convenient bringing together of previously made work, as a way of establishing a position and explaining developments. Artlab Cullinan + Richards have forged their work (in their HQ studio) around subverting USE both as an artwork and an object. They reuse materials, and retain a strict control of the fabrication. The actual methods of production adhere to structures of control which have become porous and opaque to the outside world - paintings are produced; drawings made; sculptures appear - with always a double responsibility and a fabricated context.

The question of who is responsible for creating which object has led to much discussion.


In this apparently venerable, even conservative age, Artlab can however confirm that their loyalties firmly lie with intervention and responsibility (1). Cullinan + Richards objects have been seen as agitational

(2) and collaborative, while their production emanates  from an ideologically impenetrable world.


Artlab’s main symbol and key formula, the brown and white stripe, has resulted in a stream of condemnation about its perceived meaning and the impertinence of the artists. Nonetheless in just seven years Artlab have succeeded in creating an assembly of models that fully express the concept of usability and survival with a formal nostalgia for the past.



(1)“We are terribly glad of our success which disproves repulsive hints regarding the incapacity of our art to operate or become part of life.”


(2) Freize Issue 91 p44



There is no unity of style or view of the world, no unity in the treatment of those events which gave birth to them.


Unusable Retrospective at Ibid Projects, Vilnius is both a conceptual use of Cullinan + Richards own history, and a revealing survey of the range and development of their output over the past seven years.


Artlab Retrospective - works


Furniture showroom area with

2 tables

2 chandeliers

1 light

2 easy chairs

1 desk + wall piece


Large scan decor image from Cyprus ‘Photo Reale’ piece May 2005


Platform ( reconstructed from Charles H Scott Gallery,Vancouver, ‘We’ve Done This For You’ September 2004)


Large portraits from M&S project framed on mirror perspex


Framed and unframed photos


Framed and unframed drawings


Paintings framed/unframed (several clusters 16 approx in total)


Construction by Ibid Projects, Vilnius : false wall, platform

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