|Interview by Shirley Read|
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think that to act as an early warning system and to make work as a citizen
is an important role for artists. In the past artists were always involved
in the political transactions of their time. It is only since the Industrial
Revolution that they have been marginalised and their work formalised
out of the real world into the aesthetic realm. Art is always a construction,
in our times constructed by the middle class to push the idea that art
is necessarily diminished by being directly political. Of course this
is an argument to maintain the status quo and their own position in the
and it's become a deeply unfashionable idea to respond to the world in
a very direct way. I'm seen as naive, but I see a lot of students - who
have very direct ideas - spending a lot of time making their work look
indirect because they think it will then look more like 'real' art. It
is ridiculous to think that if art is direct it is propaganda. I think
the idea that art is just the icing on the cake is crap. I still believe
that it is possible to make interventions - I don't think we should just
respond to the bombardment of the media by emulating it. It is a negative
inheritance of Post-Modernism which says 'we can't really make sense of
all this crap coming at us, we can just reproduce it in different ways'.
A lot of current work isn't about making sense of things, it's just putting
images next to each other and saying 'this is how the world is'. That's
quite reactionary. It's saying that the world comes to us through media
so all we can do is make work about media, we can't make work about events.
The ultimate was Baudrillard saying that the Gulf War only existed as
a media event.'
I was. But my work has not become part of the art system even though I
show in galleries. It crosses categories, it can be seen as illustration,
it works in newspapers, some people think it's sculpture now. To many
people it appears not to be art at all. And a bloody good thing too. I
like the sense that it can't be catalogued, that I'm a nebulous figure
who turns up in funny places. Young artists now are quite interested in
the idea that you can work in response to a certain situation in one medium
then change mediums six months later - they're not concerned with a tradition
of aesthetic development, they're concerned with making one sort of statement
and then a different statement and that's very good.'
strategy is to make work in response to current events and reinvent it
by altering its form for different contexts.'
qualities of paint and materials is something which I used to enjoy and
have repressed for twenty years. I suppose I repressed it because I felt
it was important to make work which was bound up with political movements.
Now I feel I have got to find a new way to get work across. Working with
materials such as cardboard, paint, dust is much less repressive than
working with montage. My work is becoming more informal, it spills out
into the space.'
montage is an intellectual idea which you construct in the dark-room.
Whereas working with bags full of dust, photocopies and torn things, I
don't know what the image is going to look like at the end; it is more
exploratory. Montages were to do with political movements like CND or
the Labour Party and now those outlets have changed. At one extreme a
lot of political groups now go to corporate advertisers, at the other
they are loosely based around the Internet. I do feel that there is something
about charcoal and paint and so on that I'm using in the recent work which
means people have a gut reaction which is much more physical. There is
also a problem with montage in that you see it everywhere now because
of digital technology. There is so much transformed imagery around that
people accept constructed images without questioning their meaning. They
no longer see the intention to make a message, they just see the final
result. I think that my work was losing impact because of that. It seemed
like it has become another image transformation amongst many and the message
wasn't coming through strongly enough. It's also to do with the fact that
politically we're at a different point and things are much more confusing.
Communism has gone and we're in a new world. How do you respond to that?
Montage is quite a specific response to events, it doesn't allow for layers
of meaning. It's much more complicated and confusing to respond to the
world now. But in fact I'm still using montage, I've just increased the
number of elements and use real objects rather than their representation
in a photograph.'
in them. People said afterwards that after Ken Livingstone had given his
talk they felt that they were actually at a demonstration because they
were in the middle of all these placards. It was important for the audience
to become part of the work and be physically involved. That is one way
to get through our sort of inwardness - we've all turned inwards a lot,
we all sit at home and watch videos. So the question is how do you get
people involved in the gallery situation? I try to actually get them into
the work. And the work is broken, hanging and very mucky so there's a
sort of dangerous dystopic quality which forces a reaction. Whereas a
photograph has an impenetrable surface to it.'
making a democratic sculpture. Saying that this piece is wired up and
you can just turn it on and talk into it. It's about speaking out and
encouraging people to speak out. That's where change is going to come
from in this country, from people speaking out. Like they did with the
poll tax and they are doing with the anti-road campaigns. It's about speaking,
protesting. The fact that the images were very broken, burnt and falling
apart is quite elegiac for a sense of the past and about protest. It's
also about possibility for the future. They're placards and placards are
about changing things, moving out of things.'
'I think all the stuff I do is pretty accessible. It tries to give voice to those who are increasingly marginalised and silenced. It's not art about art, it's art about the world, it's trying to bring the outside in, the world into the gallery. It-all comes from anger.'