On a rainy afternoon back in March 2010, I sat with six artists in a derelict building in Bloomsbury for a long and drawn-out conversation that coursed from ancient mythology to Thai rituals and Eric Gill’s ‘pervert font’, and degenerated into something altogether less civilised once the family-sized Domino’s pizzas arrived.
In one way or another, these artists all work at the intersection of sculpture, performance and the performative. The discussion was intended as a prelude to an exhibition about different approaches to the practice of performance, curated by Adam James and Tintin Cooper, which eventually took place last month in London.
In thinking about how to conduct the interview, I decided to turn it into a kind of random and playful stream of consciousness, punctuated by guiding words and images. I would talk through a series of terms or turns-of-phrase with the artists and address a specific question to each one in relation to her or his work. Some of these questions took the form of pictures; actually they were recent holiday snapshots of mine. The artist in question had a chance to answer and then others were invited pipe in with their insights before we all moved on to the next one. There were links between the different items but, like the works in the exhibition, they were not related to a single overarching theme.
Some of the ideas guiding the discussion:
- Ersatz living
- Ornament and crime
- A dried up grotesque fountain (illustrated below)
- The rituals of dress
- Death mask (illustrated below)
- Prosthetic nostalgia
- Nonlinear systems
- Primordial stew
- Neptune and two palm trees (illustrated below)
The participants in the conversation were:
- EMD: Ellen Mara De Wachter
- AJ: Adam James
- TC: Tintin Cooper
- JSL: Jessica Sue Layton
- AP: Andy Parker
- LP: Lucy Pawlak
- WK: Woodrow Kernohan
The project came to fruition in April this year, as an exhibition at Yinka Shonibare’s Guest Projects space in Bethnal Green.
EMD: Adam and Tintin, you’re curating this show – could you talk about your reasoning behind the exhibition and why you invited these artists?
AJ: The idea came about through me and Tintin being in a show together, years ago at Tate. We noticed a similarity, a strange sense of humour that might work. I was dressed as a weird naked Greek guy, wandering around the gallery – I gave you a rubber liver. It was something to do with the Prometheus myth, which was the theme of the night. Tintin had made a video work. We started talking and decided to do a show together. This was a few years ago.
TC: It started as something simple with just the two of us but then turned into something much bigger. I started to think of Thai artists and Adam of artists here.
AJ: It’s the first time we’ve tried to curate a show, and most of the real reasonings came much later on. We both had lined up people whose work we liked but we weren’t 100% sure why, and it’s become more apparent over the last year. From my own perspective I’ve come from using my self in my work, from a performance background. A lot of the artists in the show seem to be coming from that, but I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly it was. I was also thinking about theatre, and how it seems to be a dirty word in relation to performance art.
TC: There’s a word in Thai that comes from Sanskrit, which is leela. It translates roughly as ‘the play of life’ or ‘the game of life’ and I think the Thai artists in the show were thinking of that word, which I think describes all the work in the show. It comes from a Hindu myth in which Krishna plays tricks on people during the course of their lives. So you might fall in love or people around you might die, but it’s for you to learn something. We were talking about life as the stage.
EMD: Jess, I’d like to ask you about Ersatz living versus authentic living. You work a lot with other people’s identities and you often engineer a sense of intimacy. What kind of responses have people given to your actions or ‘inhabitations’? Someone in your book commented that they felt violated by something you had done while flat-sitting for them.
JSL: I was interested in a range of ways of interacting with people, and also them not seeing what I was doing, so there would be a missed connection. In some cases, I felt like I didn’t have latitude to change things and that I didn’t want to violate or cross an invisible. With other people I felt more playful straightaway, and could be much more bold, doing things like painting inside a medicine cabinet. This mostly comes from being in a house, and observing the way a person lives. All the interactions I do are towards the end of my stay and I feel like I’ve gotten intimate with their home and seen the way they organise things, or don’t, and observing, based on their objects and belongings, the way they exist. In one of the projects, I replaced a Monet postcard with my own version and even though it was an obvious fake when you walked up to it, by just glancing at it, it passes for the real thing. I knew that the woman’s house was her livelihood and it was important to her that she feel in control of it, because she had a B&B. I didn’t feel like overly disrupting it. I knew that in doing what I did, she may never notice. In fact she didn’t notice until she came to a blanket sale I did of all the things I snitched during the project, and she recognised it. She was the one who felt violated, and I feel like I did gauge that one correctly.
EMD: Do you feel like you take on aspects of these people’s personalities by occupying their spaces? Is there some sort of sympathetic magic or spiritual transfer that happens?
JSL: I’m tentative about going into that because in a previous work, I would house-sit for one or more weeks, and then wear the people’s clothing for portraits taken by a photographer who I would pay using the earnings from my house-sitting. But because I don’t know these people at all it’s too much of a jump for me to say that I’m encapsulating anything of that person. I was interested in portraiture and photography with that project. How a photographer attempts to capture the spirit of someone they don’t know and have just met. A lot of people say my body language and even face are different in each of these portraits. I adapt to my surroundings but I’m not really attempting to take on their personalities. It’s also important for me to know that the homeowner and photographer don’t know what I am doing until after the shots are taken. I have to behave as though the house really is my own, which can become interesting when a fuse blows and I have no idea where the fuse box is, which happened once during a shoot.
EMD: Do you try to analyse tendencies in how people create barriers between private and public life, or is each one of these an individual project with its own narrative?
JSL: Now that I’ve stayed in a few homes, there is a difference between family homes and those of people who work a lot and stay out. There’s not a neglect as such, but more an absence of time accrued there. But that it just my reflection of what I notice, like someone not having dishes, or having only one bin in the entire house.
EMD: Lucy – yours was Ornament and Crime. Adolf Loos wrote an essay with that title in 1908, which argued that mankind’s tendency towards ornamentation was the most basic, backwards and degenerate drive and would eventually lead to crime and the ‘deceleration of society’. He advocated pared-down style. I thought of this in relation to your work because you use costume, masquerade and florid characters that could be seen as a kind of ornamentation of the psyche.
LP: I often think that kind of extreme statement and it’s opposite are two sides of the same coin, if you look at the most baroque ornamentation and modernist simplicity there may be some sort of obsessive compulsive parallels. I suppose that my use of the mask as a façade but also as a reference to icons, or even superhero masks.
EMD: For me it was this idea of a degenerate or marginal figure, and that you use ornamentation of costume, mask and elaborate sets to convey a figure of a misfit, whether it emphasises that.
LP: I hope not, in a way. One of the things that troubles me in my practice is that the masks, which potentially look grotesque, but I don’t want that to be a fundamental element of what they are, but I suppose they are trying to be outside, somehow, but also they are trying to be conforming to what they understand as the correct way to behave. They’ve kind of messed up what they think they are supposed to do. In Samsonov, the man in charge is earnestly taking notes on how a family should behave, but he’s kind of ruined it by his enforcement of his position as leader.
EMD: With your different films, are you following a thread through one world with the various characters?
LP: The link is that there seems to be a consistent theme of alienation, and the Thomas Schviefel film relates to doubt, whereas the Samsonov project he has a ‘blind or blinkered certainty’. Overall, the projects relate to engagement or disengagement with the world.
EMD: When you work on a film, is linear narrative important to you?
LP: I’m trying to go more and more into looking at the rules of storytelling. I’m doing a screenwriting class and make the next story I’m developing with Samsonov really follow the rules of the game, with a happy ending, etc. I’m really curious about these structures.
EMD: Could you say a little more about the workshops you are conducting and how they relate to your aims for the project?
LP: At the moment, I’m at the auditioning stage. The plan is to continue with a group of actors I’ve decided to work with, and to look at combinations of enforced structure and improvisation. There’s going to be a hardcore degree of control enforced by the bearded man, combined with a supposed setup that’s improvisational. I’ve been looking at forum theatre and Augusto Boal, and ideas of creating a place that doesn’t have the barrier between the audience and the stage and the possibilities or lack of possibilities this might generate in relation to a mindset of what theatre or performance might be, and how audiences behave, how people behave when they are in a group that might be an audience for something or onstage or in particular roles. And also asking whether you can escape these particular roles. Within the story, there will be an improvisational element in the final shoot, that has come out of workshops. The characters may have an opportunity to escape the script, or they may not.
WK: Is Eric Gill a figure who appears in your work often?
LP: I’ve looked at figures past and present, who adopt a position as leader, and how this manifests itself and how this might become quite nasty. Eric Gill is an example of someone like that. Everyone uses Gill Sans font, the ‘pervert font’. My father has a couple of Eric Gill prints, and I remember looking at him when I was a teenager.
AJ: He had diaries that were discovered after his death that revealed intricate systems. He had a daughter and a dog and a wife. After he passed away, someone deciphered his code and realised that on one day he was having sex with his wife, on other days with his dog, and on others with his daughter.
LP: And he would frolic around his country estate wearing a hessian sack with no pants and when visitors would arrive, he would just whip up his sack. It’s funny because the typeface is so classic, and so many people use it – like Stanley Kubrick uses it.
EMD: Andy – I have a picture of a grotesque fountain for you, because in some ways it’s a remaking of a grotto. I thought of you remaking objects that you find or remember from a long time ago, and all the failures that go into remaking something, that are also the charms of the sculptures.
AP: There’s something nice in that, which is the tension between what you can get from storytelling and what you can get from information, and how those two things can jar against each other. Replicating something and the idea that you could capture the essence of that thing because you’ve been so thorough, like making a cast or death mask. When you make something like this grotto, there’s more of a story, maybe from photographs or from your head. In those cases it’s infused with far more than a direct replica, which naturally has failings, because you get things wrong. My interest in that is coming from an art background that places a value on getting things right, so if you make a copy, you make an exact copy. That photoreal sense of correspondence with something else, more and more as I get experience of the world, I just shrug and think that it’s as much to make an object that corresponds to your relation with that thing as just to be subordinate to that thing in the world. And then you get wonderful things like this fountain, which looks like a slurry of concrete escaping from the wall.
EMD: With the anchor you are planning to rebuild, could you talk about where that comes from, and in particular in relation to sense memory; you talked about the smell of bitumen paint that you associated with the anchor.
AP: It’s a big anchor I remember vaguely seeing somewhere when I was growing up. I recently went back to the place where I think I saw it and I realised there is one on the side of the Victory, which is a huge big black thing, similar to my memory. There’s something about the scale and feeling overwhelmed. I read something the other day about ships leaving harbour, which doesn’t happen so much these days because we all fly so much. But when ships pull away, they leave a huge gap, a jet-black void that opens up, where a massive solid object drifts away. And those are all things that correspond to feelings I’ve had and things I can vaguely remember, although I can’t pin them down, like my dad going away on a ship. Those are the things I’m trying to capture in making this object. It’s more vague than anything I’ve done before because it doesn’t correlate to anything in the world. For me, the work consists of actually making a thing, creating an object that exists for me and my experience, but the object itself is not more important than its making.
EMD: It’s interesting because both you and Jess are starting from absences. Jess you’re beginning with the absence of the person whose flat you’re in and Andy with the absence of the anchor you saw as a child.
AP: There is something about the gestalt familiarity of that kind of object that makes it immediately recognisable as an anchor. Though if you try to draw one, it doesn’t necessarily work, but that doesn’t matter, that it’s right or not because it’s a thing that exists. All my work is about some kind of absence, for example when you’re trying to make an exact copy from a photograph, or another object or index of something. The index is always the absence of something else because something has been there and left a mark, like the death mask that indicates that something is gone.
EMD: And with your cardboard rafts, you actually get rid of the work itself by pushing it out to sea, so you complete the absence.
AP: There’s something I find slightly troublesome when something lingers. The investment I make when creating what I see as the work is something I want to see through, but then to go away because I have no more interest in that thing. I feel happier getting rid of things. There are two journeys I do, one of which is making a work and letting it go, and the other is a gathering. For example with plant drawings I have been making, the idea was to endlessly serialise the works. It’s one piece but it consists of many versions of the same plant, it’s a gathering of different samples. It’s a way of accruing stuff, in the same way you can lose stuff, but without gaining value as such. In making the rafts, it didn’t seem that important to have them correlate with something in the world. I see and gather photos of stuff dumped in the streets because that’s something I enjoy looking at, but the rafts are not make strictly from these things. I find a box and think, if I add an inch onto that I’ll have something that’s roughly the size of a fridge, and I go from there to build something that feels right, and it’s that feeling that’s important. For me that feels like a very genuine process of making, it’s totally hands-on, and involved and thinking as I’m building, and finally the thing just appears and seems right, the way it should be. It feels intuitive. There’s a tinkering with the objects until it feels about right, creating a sense of these objects that feels right. There’s a relationship with storytelling, because in one sense I’m building it from a story I’ve told myself. There’s a vague sense of what something might be like. You end up with something that’s more than the thing in itself. The point of making these objects is to make them do something, like a prop, it has a use-value, which is to be pushed out in the water, given it’s last chance.
TC: It reminds me of a Thai ritual called loi kratong that happens every November. You chop up a banana tree and make a very pretty boat that you light with candles and push into the river. It’s the time you let go and forgive everyone and also pay respect to the mother, which is the spirit in the sea.
WK: Do you think the anchor will be in a scale in proportion to you as a child, so 2:1?
AP: In a sense that might come out as it’s done, but I’m not planning it in advance. I suppose I’m slightly hesitant about looking at it in relation to memory and childhood, because I don’t dwell on that. It’s just that this is an object that has caught my attention.
JSL: It’s another space, that you notice when you go to a thing and realise the thing is not there. It’s not meant to be nostalgic. It’s more of a bodily memory.
AP: There’s a nice connection with your work, Jessica, which is the idea of habit. When you are close connection with the same objects all the time, like a fridge or something, you’re just used to them. But when you go to the fridge in someone else’s house and you go to open it and they have the door the other way round, and it’s a shock.
EMD: When you described your work, Andy, I got the image of a blind person trying to sculpt something, and the idea that you’re doing this in the absence of all the data that you might have, sketches, the real thing to measure… You’re removing one of the most common bits of information, which is the physical presence of the thing you are replicating, and going more on your instincts.
Adam, your image was the death mask. I’d like to ask you about your compulsion to create different identities, and what this allows you to do? Also, what happens when you incarnate those characters yourself?
AJ: I think that without realising it, I can probably trace it back to being at school and feeling like I didn’t fit in with the cool kids, and being bullied and wanting to create a new and different identity for myself that would allow me to slip through the cracks. I guess I became a nerd and a keen hobbyist, which was another me. A lot of my work now comes from this nerdy fascination with characters, role playing and masquerading. Playing war games was what drew me to this process of creating characters. For a long time I would imagine characters and try to get other people to perform them for me by giving them wigs and prosthetics or costumes, but they never quite fit my imagination. Largely for pragmatic reasons, I started to dress myself and become the characters. More recently I started with mask-making and statues. For the last few years I’ve been observing characters of weirdos and people who don’t fit into society, and to become those characters. In some ways I don’t take it too seriously, and it’s an extension of what I’ve always done, having fun. I still feel like, with my performance work, I’m taking the piss, and I’m amazed that I can get away with it. Maybe I feel like I have to be silly, to become these characters in the public realm, because it is terrifying really to be these people. A mask allows me to be the other without it being embarrassing. I’m interested in seeing how small or slight that mask can be in order to become the other.
EMD: There’s a consistency within the enormous range of character that you incarnate and in the quality of the realisation, with a tremendous attention to detail. The characters are always complete and very convinced, even if they’re not convincing, which is slightly irrelevant. Another reason I chose the picture of the death mask was to ask about the life and death of these character, and whether you carry them with you forever or whether they are disposable, or replaceable.
AJ: I feel like the characters are all the same person in some way, though they look different. They allow me to be the same person, the kind of idiot. In a way, that idea of the idiot is what I am looking for in all the characters. Many of the people I take as a starting point are modern day witches or fools or loons, or people that otherwise we would ignore or step past. I find something strangely romantic and free and beautiful about the idea of just being an idiot and not caring. I really enjoy it and find dressing up fun, but I’m deadly serious about being silly.
EMD: Recently you’ve started making full body casts, premised on your body, but it’s not you. What does that shift mean?
AJ: It came about for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I felt like I didn’t have stuff and needed to return to a craft and to making something with my hands after spending a lot of time hunched over a computer editing or at the very last second throwing elements of costume together to become a character that ended up in a plastic bag all sweaty in my loft never to be seen again. The main reason was that I wanted to start internalising the characters I was becoming and stop being so much of a voyeur. I’d been pussyfooting around the choice of characters. My interest in these characters as outsiders comes from an interest in my father’s absence and growing up, knowing that my father was a schizophrenic, and that I had a ticking clock that meant that I would at some point go crazy. I guess I was flirting with this idea of the archetypal loony artist, and once I found out my dad had died last year, whether I wanted to or not now was the time to really tackle the thing that scared me most, which was looking at the crazy person perhaps within me. But it felt wrong to dress as my dad at the time, it was too raw and I only had some pictures of him to go on. I wanted to give some sort of permanence to this relationship I had with someone who I had never met, but for who I had a kind of romantic myth. So making a statue seemed like the logical step. I always liked the idea of him being a statue and the connotations of a Greek statue, a hero. Because he is heroic to me in some ways, though from stories I have from my mum, I know that he was a total arsehole and not heroic at all. There was a neat parallel between him and the other characters I’ve made, which is that in some people’s eyes they can be held up as heroes but on the whole they are decrepit and down-and-out. I’ve been doing a lot of research recently into bums and tramps and their deaths. It’s interesting to see how many of these people, once they’ve passed away, are written about really fondly as landmarks or weird heroes, even though they were cast aside during their lives. I’m interested in this flip between awful, tragic, rubbish and great, heroic at the same time.
WK: I was thinking of them in relation to the idea of ersatz living, as perhaps authentic living. Everyone else living in a fiction but these people living authentically, not caught up in the system or consumer life, but outside of it willingly.
EMD: And they seem to lack the shame that you behind the mask might be feeling, or that trepidation.
AJ: But I am also quite troubled by this because many of the people I am looking at do not feel in any way liberated or free. I am not interested in the plight of Joe Bloggs in the street, but rather that they are fascinating characters visually. They always give me a lot to go on in terms of creating a character. The works in this show, it’s the first time they won’t be based on anyone in particular, they will be from my imagination, which really troubles me because truth and reality is always so much weirder than fiction, so if I try and make up what’s weird, I don’t know what will happen.
EMD: Woodrow, I wanted to ask you about emergent properties in your work. It seems that you put together logical or mathematical systems with something non-mathematical like a photograph of a person. I’ve been looking for what it is that happens as a result of bringing these things together, and there seem to be emergent properties, but they are hard to identify exactly. How do you decide what to put together; is it intuitive or random, or guided by some particular principle?
WK: I was interested in the fountain, which looks like it’s spewing organic growth. It reminded me of the Robert Smithson poured glue piece, with a growth pattern. In my work, there’s setting up a structure and seeing what happens, setting parameters and endpoints that the system has to reach, so that it has a life cycle but you don’t know what it is. These are new things I’m exploring so I’m trying to be purely random and more arbitrary in my authorship. Things tend to have an endpoint when they are exhibited, and with the piece that involves images from a Korean health and safety website that explores all sorts of permutations within set constraints. In theory, anything could happen, though for it to be in the context of the exhibition, it has to have a set life, that my abilities with technology and the constraints of the gallery space limit. I was trying to use the same method for generating the images and the timeline as for generating how it’s exhibited, so the two structures carry each other.
EMD: The aesthetic of that particular work made me think of Dada, with the warning signs, exclamations, hazard graphics – did you pick them because they might have a comical or absurd sense of being out of context?
WK: They were picked through a process of chance, because they come from a Korean website called thisthis, so the title doesn’t make much sense. And ‘This this’ comes from a poem by Beckett I was looking at. They are two pointing words that normally point at something but in this case they point at each other, so they point at nothing. And the hazard equipment and mirrors point at things or show you something else, so there was that element to the content.
EMD: What interested you in this process of picking random methodologies or arbitrary rules to make work?
WK: The ship piece, which is called ‘Frame Refrain’ is of lots of porthole windows in ship cabins, and I found that image in a brochure very seductive, and saw it as a terrifying cell-like space on a ship with people who you were locked in with for weeks on end. I set up a rule to find sequences from films to put within the window frames and then arranged them in a linear pattern that was dictated by the soundtracks of the films they were taken from so that they are equally dictated by image and sound. So I began with chance and then set some parameters and saw what happened, because I knew there was only a certain length of time during which I could watch films. There are extracts from about 40 or 50 films in the piece.
EMD: Something I’m always curious about when artists use rule-based practices is whether you really kept to the rule or did you deviate if things weren’t quite right aesthetically?
WK: With the sequences for the hazard signs, I didn’t look at it until all the rules had been applied, so the first looking was when it was played, and then it didn’t change. With Frame Refrain, because there had to be continuity with the sound element, there was a lot of selection. For example there were notes in Jaws that could carry through to Titanic, or something like that; you could have a strange synchronicity between things. I try not to change things for aesthetic reasons, as long as they work within the rules.
EMD: Another thing with rule is the link with games. Do you see these works as games, and if so is there a winning or losing involved?
WK: I’ve been thinking recently that it’s a bit like patience, so there’s a futility to it. It’s setting up structures that are futile in a way, that explore parameters. The pleasure of the game is also in the repetition; the whole procedure becomes automated, and you become the editing desk, it’s a drawn-out process.
EMD: Do you feel that these works get a life of their own, do they become self-regulating systems and gain an autonomy?
WK: If I were any good at programming, they could.
EMD: Is that something you want to achieve?
WK: Potentially. I’m looking at it at the moment. Having a durational element would be very exciting. The thing about having a completely open structure is a concern in itself – it becomes a life form. I would be interested in exploring it and I think I’m setting up the potential for it, but I don’t have the skill.
EMD: There’s something interesting about doing these things in a low-fi way too, if the skill and technology exist, then it’s already been done, but to go back and look at where it might fall down, or where the chinks might be in the system is interesting.
WK: That comes back to the idea of replicating something that is already replicated and exists. There’s a futility in that. There’s a durational element to the objects, that have a trace of time.
EMD: And that mediation is different from an imprint, which you would get with a cast or something direct. It’s a mediation away from the material, through your mind or imagination.
I picked Neptune with palm trees for Tintin because of the ideas of mythology and deity and reverence and obsession, in relation the presence of male figures in your work, and film stars, which you’ve recut into sequences. In some ways there’s a perception of film stars as gods. But in some sense this picture relates to everyone’s work here, in terms of myth, story, fantasy.
TC: There’s a similar thing with Adam about male figures. In my video installation, I chose the most macho actors, and when I draw I always pick men, and the first thing people ask is if that’s my boyfriend, and it isn’t; it’s my dad. And it really disturbs me. These monumental charcoal drawings were at first just doodles, sketches inspired from pictures in the papers. So the first one is a picture of Imram Khan, who’s been active recently with protests in Bangladesh, and it captured my attention. It turned into a three-metre tall image of what really looks like my father when I was younger. My father was also very tall, nearly two metres. It kind of creeps me out as well because you do it and then notice afterwards. And behind this huge picture of my father was this crowd of refugees, and we grew up on the refugee camps in the Golden Triangle. So it’s weird that I noticed this after I drew it, and I guess that’s why I was attracted to this image. When I was a kid, I absolutely worshipped him, but now I think he’s very tragic.
I always use found images and I’ve notice I always use images of men who look the same. My father also played chess at grand master level and he won a lot of tournaments with Russian chess masters. People who are very good at things like that are usually strange in other ways. Bobby Fisher the chess player really reminds me of my dad or other men in his family, and when he was 60, Fisher started going crazy and saying things like the Holocaust hadn’t happened, really pissing everyone off. For me, I had an idol relationship with my father but now I see him as a tragic figure and I think a lot of my characters have that. I’m always struck by how frail he is now, and how pathetic in relation to the idol I worshipped as a child.
EMD: That realisation that you were doing something automatically is quite interesting.
TC: I did another one of a Bollywood actor called Amitab Bachan, who’s more famous than Brad Pitt. He’s in hundreds of films. There was a marriage picture that captured my attention, and I started to draw it and it turned into my uncle, who is half Indian. I used to make drawings of weird, nearly Arabic looking characters, who looked angry, and I never knew why I drew them and my mum would say ‘oh my gosh, that looks like your grandfather’. He was from the south of Thailand and he had very thick eyebrows and strong features. She would say that I was drawing the family karma. In Asia there’s a belief that your family as a whole has a karma, and it’s a haunting thing that keeps coming back.
When I draw, I sort of hang out for a week and drink coffee and then it’s like ‘oh my gosh!’ that looks like, whoever. The three-metre drawing, I paired off with a woman and it looked before getting married and then I got very freaked out because my dad had been married to and Indian woman before. I thought – why can’t I get away from my family, because I’m not really interested in family as such. I feel like that connection is very strong in my subconscious mind. I’m not sure how much others will get of this in looking at the work.
LP: I was thinking of Andy and Adam’s work in relation to the Thai ritual Tintin mentioned, and I wondered whether in opposition to a subjective mythologizing along the lines of Proust’s Madeleine, which is an object of ritual. If Andy puts something in the sea, then the sea will get rid of it for you.
AP: The first time I put one in the sea, there was no sense of getting rid of it, it was literally a raft that I put on the sea, because that’s where you put rafts. And it sank, sort of without me realising that was exactly what would happen. And as it did, I thought that ended the work in a way it was always going to, but without my consciously thinking it. I don’t really feel like it’s a ritual, even though there are probably connections you can make with Eastern rituals like the boats you cast off or the paper objects you burn at funerals.
LP: I guess I wondered whether it was an action you can set in motion but not be part of, which is what a ritual could be. For example lighting a candle in a church and then going away leaving the candle to do the work for you.
EMD: Maybe one of the differences is that the ritual is an action whose aim is not the doing of the action, but something else. It’s like a symbolic gesture to make something else happen, whereas Andy seems to have a very pragmatic use that he wants to put these objects to, and once that’s done, it’s over. It’s a concrete action that describes itself.
AP: A bit like Adam’s characters that seem crazy and useless, I see an old fridge that no longer works, but that is perfectly functional as a cupboard or a vessel, or something useful if you were castaway on an island. In that action of giving it some possibility of something to do, it naturally meets its own end. I can’t help it beyond what I can do, it’s like throwing a dead bird our of a window.
AP: There was something that struck me about this conversation – a weird sense of the Victorian, firstly from the list Ellen gave us, lots of things to do with automatism, and spiritualism and regressions, whilst at the same time, an objective sense of trying to do something, a systematic approach of using things to try and do something, make it happen.
EMD: I think I might know what you mean but for me, I would have called it a more Freudian thing; there were so many moments during this conversation when we were reading each other, versus that objective distance you mentioned.
AP: I’ve been reading a lot about the development of the texture of the Victorian city towards modern life and it feels like a lot of things we talked about; witches, loons and fools that are such old worlds, and suggest that we’re all reaching back.
LP: For me it’s without the spiritual element, the ritual without any of the sacred belief, so it becomes an action, without thinking. Sort of like the action can do it for you. Like the church gets very upset about what happens with Christmas, because it messes up their structure of control that they enforce through religion.
EMD: It goes back to what Jess said about simulations, and that the simulacrum is the thing remade and emptied out of its original purpose or meaning. But as something that still has a shape, it can still have a purpose, and people do other things with it. But it also accounts for how appealing the works can be, because people think they recognise something they know and they have a moment of ‘I get it!’ and that’s a type of satisfaction. But then the moment when the work turns out to be something other than they thought is when the art happens, when the rug gets pulled out from under them and that’s a very interesting moment.
WK: That takes us back to Ornament and Crime.
Which seems like a good ending.