The sculptures of Bill Woodrow set about enacting feats of metamorphosis, turning everyday objects into new and highly inventive creations. Woodrow, together with other artists whose work came to be loosely associated under the title ‘The New Sculpture’ (among them Richard Deacon and Tony Cragg), broke away from the austerity and reductive abstraction that characterised much of the conceptual work of the 1970s. The Lisson Gallery was to become a staging ground whereupon they could set about unleashing a flamboyance that was, in the words of Richard Cork, ‘revelling in showmanship, exotic flourishes and outrageous humour’, and at the same time ‘boisterous enough to inaugurate an expansive new mood among young practitioners’.  Discovering a freedom to explore the representational qualities of various found objects and materials, their work had a sense of wit, play and imagination that held itself up directly to certain aspects of contemporary malaise within society.
In 1981, Woodrow showed the work Crow and Carrion (1981) , comprising a pair of black umbrellas. The first is broken and crumpled, with a section of its fabric cut out in the shape of an arm, so that it appears in two dimensions, almost like a shadow. The second umbrella has been fashioned into a crow, which is pecking at the exposed limb. Crow and Carrion exhibits the interplay between victim and aggressor that Woodrow frequently establishes in his works. The umbrellas also highlight the legacy of Surrealism, and Freud’s ideas on the uncanny and the de-familiarisation of the familiar.  Woodrow’s sculpture is, however, firmly rooted in the present, utilising the spat-out remnants of a country in the grip of recession, redundancy, anger and waste – all themes pertinent today.
Long Distance Information, like Crow and Carrion, also raises questions that are as relevant now as they were when first made. We can see that a car bonnet has been cut out to create a pair of walkie-talkies, a long-lens camera and a bullet, evoking a climate of fear and surveillance, perhaps exacerbated by the Falklands War of 1982 and its long-range portrayal by the media backin the UK. Seen from the present day, the yellow of the bonnet adds a new connotation: the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is like trench art on the home front of consumerism. Nonetheless, this work is by no means polemical – it is imaginative, with a spirit of deviant inversion, resuscitating the old, tired and discarded, and injecting it with a new zest and humour. The bonnet forms a makeshift canvas, whose coarse incisions could almost be hacked-out plans for a Bauhaus housing scheme. Woodrow himself has said that this work was inspired by the Chuck Berry hit about striving for communication, ‘Memphis Tennessee’ (1958):
Long distance information, give me Memphis Tennessee
Help me find the party trying to get in touch with me
She could not leave her number, but I know who placed the call
’Cause my uncle took the message and he wrote it on the wall
© Richard Parry 2009
1 Richard Cork, New Spirit, New Sculpture, New Money: Art in the 1980s (London: Yale University Press, 2003), 9.
2 Arts Council Collection.
3 Andrew Causey, ‘The New British Sculpture of the 1980s’, in Blast to Freeze: British Art in the 20th Century (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2002), 289.