Distant Animals: I don’t know where we are going but it sure sounds nice @ Gallery 40

“In years to come when I win the Turner prize you’re going to regret not walking in.”

Like a good headline; whether arrogance or tongue in cheek, a statement as brash as this on the sign outside any exhibition needs to be explored. Very quickly you realise the statement is intended as an irony - but perhaps with an element of truth - and sets the tone for the playful exhibition created by Distant Animals, the brainchild of artist Daniel Alexander Hignell.

We are confronted with various objects and pieces that initially seem to have little context. A wooden box with grass, a chalk drawing on a floor, a harmonium. It is only after exploring the written words all over the wall does the meaning and context start to reveal itself.

As part of his PhD, Hignell has created a piece of writing called “As a process of Line Making” as a starting point to inspire and be inspired by his work as a performance artist. Situated at Gallery 40, the exhibition seems like an insight into the artist’s mind, displaying the constant back and forth between both the performances and the writing.

On the literary side you admire its ability to both be a mission statement, carrying his intentions behind the piece, but open enough to allow the viewer to place their own interpretations into the text. This openness is reflected in the artist’s personality as Hignell is open in his creative method, exploring his want to get people out to just play. The echoes of Joan Miro’s automatism, i.e. creating subconscious automatic drawings, is clear.

Speaking to Hignell about his artistic influences he reveals his admiration of Richard Boyce and the “preparation” for art. For example if you were to look at a pile of wood and really question everything about it: Is it soft/hard wood? Where was it from? What type of tree is it from? (As a whole, this method is a great starting point for anyone who would like to “learn” to look at artwork) In Hignell’s own words: “Humans are animals that are meant to play”, and his work is his own method of playing.

Clear parallels can also be made between himself and Richard Long, though from a personal point of view Hignell’s sits as an exhibition in a much more exciting way. Where Richard Long simply displays his walks as written facts on the wall, Hignell takes you on his walks. The methods behind his documentation vary from simple sculptural forms, usually strange unexplainable objects, to maps and videos, illustrated with a story on the wall.  

This exciting documentation makes imagining each of his pieces very simple, and enhances the exhibition as it allows the person to see the piece outside of the space.

The best example of this is “Brighton Community Choir does ‘Without You’”. Here, Hignell walks sadly through the streets of Brighton with a sign saying “I can’t live if living is without you” – yes, the popular Mariah Carey song. The reactions vary wildly from people singing with sheer joy to surreal bouts of anger and violence. Hilarious and shocking in equal measure, this is the most I’ve laughed at an exhibition in a long time.

Though Daniel isn’t anywhere near the Turner Prize yet, I think this is a performance artist we need to cherish and encourage. Someone that can teach us the importance of play once more.