© The Artist


Michael Landy (1963 – )


40 X 50 CM
Accession number


Interviewed by Douglas Fogal in February 1995, Michael Landy stated that “most of my works come out of anger.” At that time, this anger was directed at the callous disregard for both individuals and communities that had become a defining feature of the Keynsian economic theory known as Thatcherism. The 1980s in particular had seen the privatisation of national industries, the emasculation of the trades unions, and the subjection of all areas of life to the harsh mechanisms of capitalist market forces. Two catchphrases summarised the decade: “Greed is good”, said Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street, and “There is no such thing as society” (Margaret Thatcher, Womanmagazine, 31.10.87). While the successful, consuming individual was to be universally admired, those individuals or communities not fitting the new model were vilified as lazy, and ignored.

The Scrapheap Services company created by Landy is the dystopian flipside of this economic theory. Using crass advertising industry vernacular, Scrapheap Services promises to rid society of the “scum”, the economically marginalised and non-productive as if they were simply one more unwanted by-product of the consumer society. Over a two-year period, Landy meticulously created the uniforms, logos and equipment for his fictitious company. The large-scale installation that resulted centred on the gigantic Vulture people-shredder, which slowly reduced to minute pieces the millions of tiny figures, laboriously cut out of salvaged drinks cans. The many drawings which Landy made during this period detail both the research for and the making of the installation. Among the intensely detailed surfaces of the drawings portraits of friends abound, as well as paint-by-numbers style rural landscapes which are the product that Scrapheap Services is ultimately peddling: an earthly paradise, free from imperfections. Quotations from the Beveridge Report, the document which in 1942 provided the blueprint for the modern Welfare State in Britain, speak of the “five giants on the road to reconstruction”: ignorance, idleness, disease, squalor and want. In earlier drawings the voice of the artist appears in lines of text railing against the waste of human potential. When viewing the installation Scrapheap Services, the visitor is obliged, through a conscious strategy of the artist, to walk on the carpet of miniature human figures. The gesture makes the viewer complicit in the activity of the company, and makes a point about the ignorance and culpable idleness of the comfortable few, in the face of squalor and want.

Micro/Macro, Mucsarnok/Kunsthalle, Budapest 2003 (catalogue accompanying British Council exhibition of the same title)