Ash's interview by Dan
Tell me about A Lecture on the Artist's Body Told Through A Series of Lies, your upcoming exhibition at Local Art Museum Project Space.
The work has two elements. There's a video work which is projected onto the wall at quite an intimate scale, and a piece of wooden furniture which is positioned to be sat on while you watch the video. The furniture is a kind of a meeting point between a sculptural tradition and interior design traditions, so it resembles certain modernist sculptures, particularly ones made by Picasso, but it also resembles furniture made by Alvar Aalto. And in its furniture component it looks quite like a sort of fragmented body, a human body it has certain recognisable human 'features'.
The video which is composed mainly of bits of drawings and photographs that I have taken over the past year or so being put into, being treated somewhat like puppets I suppose, interacting with one another. Sometimes this is done directly by filming them being held by me or moved around, and sometimes it's through a digital editing process. It has been shot in my studio.
So it's kind of like the viewer will be seeing a sort of expanded animation, of drawings and objects from the studio?
Yes, and an allusion to a outside world outside the installation.
Was it commissioned specifically for this Local Art Musem? How did the space contribute to the final work?
When the conversation began with Anne, the curator, I told her that I might like to elevate some existing elements which were individually quite small - the kind of day to day shuffling about the studio life - into something quite large. I needed some larger space to be able to put it together.
This is your first major solo presentation in Europe, the first opportunity that this audience has to see you work in a concentrated way.
I was conscious that in a group exhibition there's a different kind of attention, maybe, that people are able to pay, and that this is more of a sort of a focussed singular relationship with something so I was more confident to use perhaps bittier, scrappier materials.
Do you feel that for first time viewers of your practice that this is indicative of what you've been doing over the past few years or is this a new step for you?
I think that this is more or less in line with what I've been doing, in that for some time I've been making work that is figurative, or makes reference to that kind of figuration, but avoids direct completed unitary human figures. I'm very interested in sculpture and figurative sculpture, though I've never made a thing that resembles a person as such. So that is a continuing line.
How does Picasso in particular fit into line? Has he been a constant reference in your work or is there something in his relationship to this city that is important?
Actually Picasso is quite new. I suppose, early on, you get introduced to the modern canon in a focussed way and then you're almost immediately taught to distrust it. So I actually am undergoing a process of rediscovery, because I think that while there are a lot of things to be critical of, built into that criticism is the fact that this kind of exploration of fragmentary bodies has been ongoing and perhaps it's useful to continue to use that visual language. Even if we don't use it uncritically, that was established a hundred years ago now.
I think that representations of bodies are as prevalent today as they ever were [in Picasso's time]. Mainstream culture today has less of a directly stated criticality associated with these forms, and I think it's interesting to look at a hundred years ago when even if it wasn't being done in a positive light these representations, even if they were talked about as shocking or degenerate or whatever, where bodies were, rather than being elevated or idealised, represented in a more disjointed way. And I think that for instance in age of 3D cinema we're seeing something that once again kind of resembles figurative sculpture, I'm interested in perhaps fragmenting those representations again.
The initial reference point of say, early 20th century cubism, was one that was influenced by negative (or, at best ambivalent) perceptions of radical industrial and social change. Is that fragmentation that occurs in this new work a reflection of how you see contemporary society changing?
Well I think that there's a particularly masculinist aesthetic at the moment which I think is hard not to get drawn into, which is why I think I'm talking about my own body, in this work. And I would say perhaps you know something like body building is perhaps, is another form of figurative sculpture that we see now. And this masculinism is definitely connected to the fact that the world is sort of almost totalising... there's a militarisation of our world going on I think and that's not reflected on in the same way, perhaps there's less of a reaction of horror to that than there was a hundred years ago, because maybe it's been normalised and also it's been valorised. So, yeah, maybe there's something about trying to bring back horror.
And so as part of the exhibition you've been developing a screening programme and a series of readings. Can you share any hints about what might be in that programme yet?
I will probably be showing the first Die Hard film, because I think there's a point there (while this doesn't come to the fore quite so much in this work) about the male body and policing, internal and external, and the policeman as a hero in our culture, especially as something to reflect on in a time when the police are possibly more brutal than they've ever been in a lot of places in the world. So I like Die Hard because it has John McClane as a rugged American individual who's a representative of the NYPD but because he's in his LA he's able to be a policeman and not a policeman at the same time. He's able to embody the institution and the individual simultaneously, which is a tension I enjoy, and it's obviously a film that's hugely to do with his body, and a kind of an everyman in a superman's body. Which is something that I am interested in and critical of and again, in reflecting on my own body, obviously see there being limitations to.
Thinking about a single person inhabiting different roles, and also thinking about the way that you involve in your own body and thinking the over-valorisation of certain masculinist tendencies, is there a place for humour in your work, can viewers expect that too?
Yeah, certainly. Another obvious other reference is Buster Keaton and his immunity to physical pain, but his vulnerability to sort of psychic pain. And I think that that's something that I've learned from formally, all throughout my practice, but also the fact that I find it genuinely hilarious is something to which I return, so, hopefully some of that leaks through because I do think it's important to enjoy oneself at least a little bit.