Andy Holden – Song of Songs

PV Thursday 14th September
15th September to 21st October 2023


Open for Frieze East End Gallery Day
1pm – 4pm Sunday 8th October


For his first exhibition in a commercial gallery in fifteen years, Andy Holden presents two installations at Seventeen. Linked by personal loss, each work is an attempt to process distinct moments from the past, within the context of  the artist’s continued inquiry into the nature of time. 

The first room presents a new musical arrangement of Just (Song of Songs) by David Lang, the text for which is based on the Old Testament poem, also know as Song of Solomon.  Recorded by Holden and his band The Grubby Mitts the sixteen-channel spatialised mix begins with Holden’s voice, sung through a vocoder, which is gradually enveloped by vocal harmonies, piano, violin, brass section, shifting electronic loops and percussion. The tender depiction of a relationship through an unfolding list of disjunctive nouns, prefaced with, “Just your…”,  conjures a sense of timeless mourning and loss. 

The darkened gallery also contains a series of six new wall works titled Infinite Resignation, taking its name from the state of mind that Danish theologist, Søren Kierkegaard, identified as necessary before the leap towards faith is possible. These pieces adapt the recent James Webb Space Telescope images that depict the furthest back in time that the human eye has yet perceived, and are adorned with hundreds of cheap plastic ‘googly’ eyes. The images show us the night sky looking back; a paranoiac pareidolia, evoking a cosmic sense of being watched, or watched over, by a sky with many Gods. The use of inexpensive and playful material to attempt a sweeping eschatology can be seen as a continuation of Holden’s 2003 manifesto Maximum Irony! Maximum Sincerity, that declared art must be both ironic and sincere at the same time. The expansive galactic works provide an apathetic, alienated backdrop in front of which the intimate Song of Songs plays out, creating an affecting tension between the the indifference of the vast universe and the intense, sincere subjective longing of love interrupted by death. 

For the second room Holden has expanded and  built on a key work from 2011: Library for the Unfinished Concept of Thingly Time. First made for his solo exhibition Chewy Cosmos, Thingly Time at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, the exhibition was marked by tragedy when Holden’s collaborator Dan Cox was killed in a road accident during preparations for the exhibition. The library is dedicated to the completion of an idea the pair had been developing, provisionally titled ‘thingly time’. The concept proposes that all objects contain a hidden duration that artworks can unlock. It is a nonteleological, congealed temporality and does not move with the passing of time as experienced by human perception.

The new work takes the form of an expanded memorial library that houses multiple sculptural works. Alongside furniture designed and made by Holden from laminated woods, the library contains: all the books in Cox’s possession at the time of his death; numerous small sculptures in bronze and wood; totemic geological plaster works; found natural objects; ceramic studies, and 3D printed pieces that allude to other works by Holden. The work also houses an archive of the project’s evolution, including correspondence with Ursula K. Le Guin who contributed a key text for the library’s inception. The library has been expanded for this iteration to accommodate new literary acquisitions and recent intimately scaled works. The installation can be seen within the tradition of memorial libraries, where the collection of one individual is considered of significant value to be housed and maintained for future research. Holden’s library alludes to, despite the chip-board veneer of contemporary living spaces, the interior of a Renaissance study. The books and sculptures together create a ‘wunderkammer’, in which texts and objects are placed equally at our disposal for future understanding of the unfinished concept of ‘thingly time.’



Andy Holden’s work comprises of large installations, sculpture, painting, music, performance, animation, curating and multi-screen-videos. His work is often defined by very personal starting points used to arrive at more abstract philosophical questions.

As a teenager Holden wrote a manifesto for art titled, “Maximum Irony! Maximum Sincerity”,  which can be seen to inform all his subsequent work. For his first major exhibition ‘Art Now: Andy Holden’ at TATE Britain (2010), he exhibited Pyramid Piece, a vastly enlarged replica of a piece of stone he stole from the Great Pyramid at Giza as a boy, and later returned. From 2011-2017 Holden worked on Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape, a hour-long animated film which explored the idea that the world was now best understood as a cartoon. The sequel, Structure of Feeling, was presented at Block 336 in 2021 and the exhibition, taking the form of a ghost train ride, could only be navigated by motorised carts. Holden’s Natural Selection, commissioned by Artangel in 2017, was made in collaboration with his father Peter Holden and utilised a detailed exploration of birds nests and eggs to explore questions of nature and nurture, and mankind’s changing relation to the natural word. His recent work for British Art Show 9 (2022) and exhibited in full at The Gallery of Everything (2023), was an animated film about an unknown ‘outsider’ artist, Hermione, who’s work he discovered in a charity shop, and explored notions of time, sickness, and legacy. 

Holden’s has released a number of records with The Grubby Mitts. In 2021 he curated Beano: Art of Breaking the Rules at Somerset House. Collected Free Labour, a book of interviews with Holden was published last year by Slimvolume. His work can be found in the permanent public collections of Tate, Arts Council Collection, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and Leeds Art Gallery, as well a number of museums in Europe. In September 2023 his first permanent public sculpture, The Auguries, was unveiled in Wakefield. In 2024 A Natural History of Nest Building will be exhibited at Tate St Ives, and Pyramid Piece and Natural Selection will be shown at Kröller-Müller Museum, Netherlands. 


List of Works

Room 1: 

Just (Song of Songs), 2023, 16mins, 16 channel sound installation. Composed by David Lang, arranged and recorded by The Grubby Mitts (Holden/Illingworth/The Grubby Mitts), production by Kinn, sound design by David Shepherd.

Infinite Resignation, 2023,  collage on unique archival pigment print on cotton rag paper, 150 x 100 cm

Room 2:

Library for the Unfinished Concept of Thingly Time, 2011- 2023. 

Furniture, books, carpets, bronze, plaster, ceramic, shellac, wood, stop motion animation, HD video, resin, various prints, laminated chipboard, furnishings and archival materials. 


Studies for Infinite Resignation, collage on paper, 26 x18cm, 2023

Uchronia, handprinted 3D printed sculpture, 28 x 28cm, 2023