dcsimg British Council | Saints Alive

Saints Alive

An exhibition by Michael Landy

Bringing saints to life

Saints Alive is an exhibition of sculptures, collages and drawings resulting from British artist Michael Landy’s residency under the National Gallery’s Associate Artist Programme between 2010 and 2013 in London.

The exhibition was originally conceived for the National Gallery, London. It was presented in Mexico City from November 2014 to March 2015 by Mandato Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso and the British Council, where it comprised of eight sculptures and 40 framed works on paper.

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#SantosVivientes #MichaelLandy

How did Saints Alive go from an initial idea to an international showcase?

The artist's process

Michael Landy's studio at The National Gallery, London © National Gallery, London

Michael Landy's studio at The National Gallery, London © National Gallery, London
Michael Landy cropping a saint's picture

Destruction as a starting point for creativity

One of the most highly regarded artists working in Britain today, Landy is best known for his large-scale sculptural installations, most notably Break Down of 2001, when over a two week period he systematically dismantled and destroyed every single thing he owned.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to Landy in 2010 when he was asked to be the next artist-in-residence at the National Gallery in London, an institution whose main mission is the preservation - rather than destruction - of historical art.

Landy accepted the challenge.

2010 - Research period

Landy spends the first 12 months looking at the gallery's collection of over 2,300 old master paintings and drawings nearly every day. These date from the mid-13th century to 1900.

"I like saints because they are self-destructive."

Michael Landy

2011 - Testing ideas

Landy spends time drawing the paintings.

"I actually did a drawing just of all the different St Catherine wheels – and this then led me to becoming interested in looking at the saints from the Renaissance period."

Michael Landy

2012 - The collages

After an intense period of drawing, Landy begins to make collages using hundreds of print outs of the old master paintings which he deconstructs, cuts up, rearranges and sticks back together again.

He initially focusses on the sacred stories behind the martyrdom of a small number of saints depicted in the gallery's paintings.

"I became fascinated by how people identify one saint from another through their visible attributes. You always see St Peter Martyr with a sword embedded in his head and a dagger in his chest."

Michael Landy

From collage

Michael Landy's studio at The National Gallery, London © National Gallery, London

Michael Landy holding a saint's cut out against his face, at his studio located at the National Gallery, London
to sculpture

Saints Alive exhibition in Mexico City © Jimena Santoyo

Saints Alive exhibition in Mexico City © Jimena Santoyo

How did Landy breathe life into his 2D collages to create 3D kinetic sculptures?

2012 - The sculptures

On an increasingly ambitious scale, the collages in turn lead to the creation of large-scale kinetic sculptures which, as Landy always intended, could be operated by visitors to the exhibition.

"He's essentially abstracting bits of very important paintings, pulling them together, animating them in 3D dimensions, and monumentalising them. From something that was teeny tiny he's suddenly blowing up times ten." - Jennifer Sliwka, Howard and Roberta Ahmanson Fellow of Art and Religion - July 2012.

'He has scoured car boot sales and flea markets accumulating old machinery, cogs and wheels to construct the works’

Colin Wiggins, Curator, National Gallery, London

"I liked the idea that we as a culture have forgotten the idea of saints, and that I come along with this junk – which is also forgotten and neglected – and use it to bring the saints back to life." - Michael Landy

This video by The National Gallery shows how Michael Landy creates his first sculpture © National Gallery, London

2013 - Open to the public

Exhibition opens in London and invites audience participation.

"I like that the public is involved with this persecution by pressing the buttons and pedals that create this violent destruction.

The machines will break down...that's the beauty of kinetic art"

Michael Landy

By inviting members of the public to engage directly with contemporary sculpture in this way, Landy breathes new life into the stories, re-animating the lives of the saints for a 21st century audience.

In November 2014 the exhibition opens in Mexico:

Exhibition in Mexico

The exhibition for Mexico has been enlarged since the first showing at The National Gallery in London in 2013, and it now comprises eight sculptures and 40 framed works on paper installed in the magnificent setting of the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso.

Interview with Michael Landy February 2014

Are you nervous that people might be rough with the art, if they’re encouraged to touch it and crank levers?

At the National Gallery, people aren't allowed to touch things, but for me it was important that the public could interact with the work in a way that is different from how they negotiate looking at paintings.

How do you think the exhibition is viewed in Mexico, compared to in the UK?

In Mexico, people have a lot more faith. Saints are still a part of life – everybody has their favourite saint. For instance, there's a tradition in which a statue of St Anthony will be turned upside down until a single person finds a partner.

Read the full interview on the Voices blog.

How did the audience react?

"Remember that you are an essential part of giving life to the #SantosVivientes by #MichaelLandy and will also be involved in the destruction"

"We all have a demon that we wish to attack #MichaelLandy #art"

"Wish I could see saints alive in Mexico! #SandllefonsoMX #MichaelLandy #UKMX2015"

What do you think of the exhibition?

Follow the conversation on Twitter:

#SantosVivientes #MichaelLandy

Find out more

What is the Dual Year of UK and Mexico 2015? Find out about this year-long celebration of cultural, educational and business exchange between our two nations.

About the artist

Michael Landy was born in London. He studied at Loughborough College of Art, 1981-83 and Goldsmiths College, University of London, 1985-88.

He is a conceptual artist who belongs to the generation of the so-called Young British Artists (YBAs) that emerged during the 1980s.

He is well known for creating anti-materialistic installations and symbolic actions.

In 2010, Landy was appointed as the eighth Associate Artist at the National Gallery, London where he created the works gathered in this exhibition.

Read more about Michael Landy's work.


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