Shrigley created the Swan-things for the Spritmuseum, after the gallery gave the artist free reign to do whatever he wanted in their exhibition space.
“I wanted to fill the space with one piece, which is something I’m not allowed to do very often,” Shrigley told Dezeen. “The first job of the artist is to fill the space, whether a piece of paper, or a wall or a gallery space.”
The invitation resulted in the Exhibition of Giant Inflatable Swan-things, which sees Shrigley’s signature caricature-like sketches brought into the three-dimensional world.
Instead of depicting the swan’s signature elegant neck curvature, Shrigley has applied his satirical style by giving his inflatable birds straight, erect necks, and replacing a head and beak with a simple cartoon-like smiley face.
“Nothing is quite as it seems in Shrigley’s universe. The laws of physics are suspended and the everyday world is distorted, revealing a rare and mordant sense of humour,” said the museum. “Welcome down the rabbit-hole!”
The series of 12 whimsical blow-up swans fill the gallery space, each inflating and deflating in succession over the course of 12 minutes. The swans are inflated and stand tall for at least four minutes before slowly collapsing over a period of eight minutes, repeating the process on a loop.
“There’s a certain poetry or profundity to it. You’re watching air move around, but there’s more to it,” said Shrigley. “I really liked the deflation more than I liked the inflation. Watching something deflated in a gallery, it’s almost something stupid like inviting someone to watch paint dry.”
“I think it has the right level of comedy to it, but theres something interesting and odd about it,” he continued.
The idea for the exhibition was born from a series of limited edition series of hand-held swan statuettes that Shrigley made in 2000, which were cast in polyurethane resin.
These ornaments were soon transformed into “Ridiculous Inflatable Swan-thing” swimming pool floaters by Australian company Third Drawer Down, which seemed to poke fun at the popular pool inflatables often seen on millennials’ Instagram accounts in the form of swans and flamingos.
Shrigley has now taken these spoof floaters, enlarged them, and used them to fill the gallery space in Sweden. “There’s a chain of creative decision that led to the piece and one of the creative decisions wasn’t mine, which I quite like,” he said.
He described the decision to make an artwork that’s based on someone else’s interpretation of another artwork he has made as “transgressive”.
The installation was also loosely informed by Shrigley’s giant thumbs-up sculpture Really Good, which stood in London’s Trafalgar Square for 18 months from 29 September 2016.
A contemporary Japanese museum wanted to exhibit the seven-metre high statue, but when this was not possible, Shrigley created an inflatable substitute version for the museum instead.
This led to the artist experimenting with more inflatable art, and eventually creating the 12 giant swan-things now on display at the Spritmuseum.
The exhibition, which was Shrigley’s first show in Sweden, opened on the 27 September 2018, and will run until 31 March 2019.
The British artist also recently drew his attention towards the UK’s general election, making a plea to the Conservative government to champion the country’s diversity and abolish laws that attack human rights with a series of illustrations for a campaign named Keep Britain Kind.