You know what I mean – Solo show by Anja Stenina at GS Artists Swansea 2020
In this installation, the artist explores the breakdown of communication between ideological positions. “You know what I mean” exemplifies the way in which discourse is broken, limited without elaboration or resolution. She uses metaphysical personifications of the Ages of Aquarius and Pisces to symbolise antithetical ideological perspectives at a point of impasse and physically locates the viewer within the grey area between binary standpoints.
2019 UWTSD Joint Mres Degree Exhibition
What would Mother say?
The artist presents a range of vignettes exploring aspects of the symbolic abuse that resides within our everyday lives. Seeking the myth within the mundane, she playfully re-examines situations and stories that are generally taken for granted. Positioning her work within a child-like framework of fairy tales, games and song, Anja tests the resilience of symbolic expressions of authority and dominant culture.
It’s not the large things that send a man to the madhouse.
Death he’s ready for, or murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood…
No, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies that send a man to the madhouse…
Not the death of his love but a shoelace that snaps with no time left.
The silhouetted figure of The Mule in the video is quoting the story of Pinocchio when he tells his unfortunate tale of becoming a donkey and being sold to the circus and forced to perform for the circus owner:
“Know, then, that, once upon a time, I was a wooden Marionette, just as I am today. One day I was about to become a boy, a real boy, but on account of my laziness and my hatred of books, and because I listened to bad companions, I ran away from home. One beautiful morning, I awoke to find myself changed into a donkey-long ears, gray coat, even a tail! What a shameful day for me!
I hope you will never experience one like it, dear Master. I was taken to the fair and sold to a Circus Owner, who tried to make me dance and jump through the rings. One night, during a performance, I had a bad fall and became lame. Not knowing what to do with a lame donkey, the Circus Owner sent me to the market place and you bought me.”
Quote from Pinocchio: The story of one marionette by C.Collodi
The story is told in the interwoven voices of a child, man and woman. The voices speak in a confessional, traumatised tone. The silhouetted, anthropomorphised figure appropriates the anonymous victims’ confession. The figure represents the marginalized members of society, telling a story of mundane symbolic abuse.
In this video piece Stenina looks into the disconnect of stereotypical cultural tropes with the everyday burden of living in contemporary society. She attempts to visualize the impact of the archetypical representations upon social identification. The artist explores the construction of the hero narrative and its effect on our wellbeing. Starting from performative sculpture, Stenina uses common figures such as the music box ballerina and drummer boy to present a narrative of contemporary conflict. In the video, at the first glance, figures appear to be static, but upon closer examination, the viewer can notice that the figures are balancing under tension in very uncomfortable poses.
The soundscape accompanying the piece is a mix of the sound of a toy drummer boy, the sound of a music box and the ambient sounds of the gym in the background.
The artist is investigating whether we are shaped by the role of the character or we have the ability to direct and step outside the story.
The video piece displays the Buzzer game where a disturbing sound pops up if the ring touches the metal. In the video, an anonymous figure is playing the game, and upon the touch the buzzing sound appears with an authoritative voice (male, white, American) proclaiming:
Congratulations! You are no longer a virgin!
Congratulations! You’ve got the job!
Congratulations! You’ve got the promotion!
Stenina explores the symbolic authority of such phrases as “Congratulations!” and with the help of the toy adds tension to these phrases, highlighting their authoritative and ‘encratic nature’.
The familiar nursery rhyme tune of the ‘Wheel on the bus’ is appropriated in the ‘Wheels of abuse’ piece, placed into a karaoke set-up. The intimate sound of a mother-like voice is singing the song with the lyrics changed into a ‘black comedy’ sketch. The scenarios of ‘symbolic abuse’ that are commonly encountered in everyday life are sang out.
The wheels of abuse go round and round
round and round
round and round
The wheels of abuse go round and round
all day long
The chivalrous man says let me help
let me help
let me help
The chivalrous man says let me help
all day long
The patriotic man asks where are you from
where are you from
where are you from
The patriotic man asks where are you from
all day long
The mother on the bus says boys don’t cry
boys don’t cry
boys don’t cry
The mother on the bus says boys don’t cry
all day long
The lady on the bus says isn’t she cute
isn’t she cute
isn’t she cute
The lady on the bus says isn’t she cute
all day long
The men on the bus say smile smile smile
smile smile smile
smile smile smile
The men on the bus say smile smile smile
all day long
The wheels of abuse go round and round
round and round
round and round
The wheels of abuse go round and round
all day long
Much of marginalisation resides in the inherent and implied, the assumed. Stenina analyses the structural relations of both inequality and domination that arguably reinforce social marginalization. The artist examines examples of ‘symbolic abuse’ within everyday life and applies Barthes’ semiotic analysis to a contemporary context.
GS ArtistsdirectorClaire Annabel Francis‘s work examines the duality of binary structures within society and the ways of human thinking that often determines us as outside of, in opposition to or above our counterpart.
The primacy of the natural world is in many ways forgotten due to the meanings inculcated onto it, we forget that we are a part of it. For this reason, ‘nature’ features within the work as a metaphor, it is presented to the viewer with a multifaceted role addressing gender, space and place.
Hide is a current WIP taken from a previous undergraduate exploration which involves the deconstruction of a man-made fruit box, taking away its purpose and use within society. The material is pieced back together to form a hide or skin. The holes within the work are a mark of the industrial process, joining nature and human together.
Jam is a body of work displaying assumed feminine objects (jam jars) containing ambiguous, chaotic and conceivably dangerous substances from nature, playing a subtle, sinister role within the work, disrupting the perpetuated image of the feminine as the caregiver e.g. Wife and Mother. Footage is a section of video work documenting an experiential exhibition event which created a liminal space between the dualistic worlds of the ‘Man- Made’ and ‘Mother Nature’.
A poisonous plant was deconstructed and displayed within large pods, in order to view the material visitors had to wear protective clothing. At any point, the natural element contained the chaotic potential to overcome the man-made safety equipment therefor becoming the dominant force, arguably turning the viewers into the liminal.
Refugees was an installation work looking at the notion of belonging in relation to space and place. These non-indigenous plants teeter on the edge of a precipice, leaving the viewer unsure of whether they are falling into the darkness emerging from it.
Tess Wood’s practice aims to express and further deepen her own understanding of human interaction and social control, presenting performances to her audience in an attempt to offer them an opportunity, to experience and contemplate feelings towards topics such as gender, sexuality, power and the moments of fear, love, passion and frustration that reside within these in the contemporary day.
Currently focusing on the underpinning of a collective frustration with social control, power structures and theories regarding the relationship of body to architectural public space. Within the last month her work has taken a more reflective sentiment relating the current lock down situation that we are experiencing to her time spent in Japan in 2017.
The images shared here are stills from three separate performances in which the artist uses her body to express personal emotional and physical frustration with the world. Using these landscapes and architectural spaces she utilises public and private spaces as a place where one can easily express themselves immediately. This series of performative actions is an ongoing project spanning the last five years.
It is a mechanism that drives me to create work. If I am told something is to be a certain way, that I must abide by a certain set of rules, I am wired, I am totally wired to understand why.
Jeremy Gluck mainly works with contemporary strategies. By rejecting an objective truth and global cultural narratives, Gluck creates work in which a fascination with the clarity of content and an uncompromising attitude towards conceptual and minimal art often collides with ambiguity and concealment. The work is aloof and systematic and a cool and neutral imagery is used, obscuring a subtext speaking to process as practice.
Punk rock? You know it when you hear – and see – it; months before I heard the debut Ramones album I had put pictures of them from Rock Scene on my wall. I knew. And I was right: the Ramones possessed life-changing powers. They sure as hell changed my life. A friend of mine went to London in 1976 and sent me back a parcel of punk singles, among them the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK; the first time I listened to it it was too alien to absorb, but the second time I looped it over an entire C-60 cassette I listened to obsessively for weeks.
Punk is still the music anybody can play, a dream you can have when you’re awake: everybody dreams but it ends when you awaken, whereas for me and many others punk was in its prime a dream we shared while awake. Its energy and ethos have its roots in things as unlikely as the Beats and Warhol, mass production and mass media, which it both rebelled against and benefited from. Punk represents freedom of identity and creativity, a will to take chances, make things for the sake of it and wreck things for the fun of it. As manifestos go, that still works for me.
Jamie Reid, bestknown for his décollage covers of the Sex Pistols’ albums Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, as well as their singles including Anarchy in the U.K. and God Save the Queen, is a self-described anarchist, since creating cover art that helped define the aesthetic of the British punk movement working tirelessly at his practice, and as an activist and agitprop icon to move us all to face and facilitate changes necessary to our lives and world. At Croydon Art School his path crossed fatefully with future Sex Pistols manager and punk svengali, Malcom McLaren, and in harness they transformed the music and art. Represented by John Marchant Gallery in London, Reid’s works are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Tate Gallery in London, among others.
On the eve of his 2020 retrospective at GS Artists, Dragons Revenge, I interviewed Jamie Reid, at 73 still an iconoclast and highly political working artist. His passion for art, music, culture, ecology, spirituality and the predicament of humanity – and with his bedrock detestation of capitalism and conformity reassuringly evident – Reid proved an absorbing and eclectic subject the privilege of interviewing who will long remain with me. Not willing much to revisit the past – his own remarks on it here largely unprompted – he is by consensus one of the outstanding, most important British artists of his generation, one concerned with being as much as doing – and making – and so conferring on his output thereby the imprimatur of an integrity and humanity that is both astringent and moving. A remarkable man and artist, therefore, and one we should treasure for his resolve, audacity and vision. Toward the end of this interview Reid, exploring the loss to us of our knowledge of nature, claims he is “rambling”. “Rabelaisian”, more perhaps, by definition creating work that is “a metaphor for guerrilla civil revolt” and referring to people who “have become giants whose strength and appetite are enormous”. It’s just such a lust for revolt and life that characterises Jamie Reid, a man that – while shaping it – has been and still is of and in and out of his time.
GS Artists: Your work changed the world of art and design. How does that feel?
Jamie Reid: It depends on which ways it’s been done. I’ve just done a campaign against McDonald’s, who rip my work off terribly, and if it’s done by corporate people I hate it, but it’s fairly inevitable that things, in many ways creative arts and the establishment, are very sort of blameless and anything that comes up new they try to rip off to try and make money out of.
GS Artists: Sure, that’s true. That could be called our culture.
Jamie Reid: But if it’s done with some with intent, and with a sort of political message, I approve of it. It depends on how things are done. I mean, on a purely, sort of music level, someone who really understood where me and Malcolm McLaren are coming from with the Pistols and punk were the KLF and what they did, but they took it to a completely new generation.
GS Artists: Do you feel there’s anyone now taking it to a new generation?
Jamie Reid: There probably is, probably don’t know about it, probably worldwide there is. I mean the movement against global warming and the planet is fantastic.
GS Artists: It’s 2020. About a year ago I was in the aisle of a big superstore somewhere and it was empty, just this kind of void. And I posted it on Facebook with the caption Anarchy in the UK 2019. What is anarchy in the UK now? Brexit? After Brexit? Is there no anarchy? Have we lost all hope of anarchy?
Jamie Reid: There are reasons why, there are many. It’s absolutely appalling what’s happened in this country, probably ever since Margaret Thatcher. You now got Boris Johnson, and without getting into legal trouble if you were to watch a film, Riot Club, about where his background comes from, The Bullingdon Club, the man is like a fascist rapist who – it’s not a direct quote of his but it’s an image I’ve done for the GS exhibition where he actually ends up saying, “We were born to rule over scum”. And he got voted for, but funnily enough he got voted for in a way Trump got in. Boris Johnson used the television appearing as a guest on various programs, like Have I Got News for You, and became popular playing a buffoon. Yeah, so brings me back to my starting point, which is a society of the spectacle emerging in a situation as politics and the society of the spectacle, which has been so proven right.
GS Artists: And there are people who can exploit that. With the Johnson phenomenon, these people have looked at Joseph Goebbels’ playbook. They’ve understood those principles of creating spectacle which the Nazis excelled at, for example. They’ve adapted it to the time, and to the audience, but there’s no mistaking there’s some sort of study going on there of that kind of manipulation. One of the images you’re exhibiting at GS is against English Heritage. What is the context for the protest?
Jamie Reid: It relates to my whole background; it was a very socialist but Druidic background. And the English Heritage in particular to me is the way they took over something like Stonehenge and the way they seem to represent everything that’s conservative and represent the worst of English history. Whereas, I suppose, one thing I’m really involved with is that we’ve got a whole unsaid, unrecorded history. That’s just a thing to get out there actually. With the present politics I was very taken with Margaret Atwood. I was trying to think of images for Boris Johnson and Trump and Putin, and she came up with a quote where she was asked what do you think of the present, the political situation, and she said we’re going backward at a very rapid rate (GS: A work citing this appears in the show). And then I suddenly saw from my end, Putin is the Czar, Trump is like the John Wayne cowboy, and Boris Johnson is a combination of Flashman and Tom Brown’s School Days and a Roman emperor. You know he’s obsessed with Roman history and that’s relevant as well…Roman history and Churchill, what a combination anyway!
E GS Artists: My next question is related to what you just said and about issues of the environment and your perspective on Extinction Rebellion and for example, Greta Thunberg, who I think is wonderful.
Jamie Reid: Yeah, I do…
GS Artists: What do you make of all that? What do you think is the context and provenance of it all, and its future?
Jamie Reid: At its worst, it’s Stormzy playing Glastonbury in front of 100,000 upper-middle-class white people. In principle Extinction Rebellion is fantastic. I work at a community center, which I’m totally immersed in, in Liverpool called The Florrie, The Florence Institute. And it’s one of the poorest areas in Liverpool and you ask those kids about the environment, they’re not remotely interested. All they are interested in is getting by day by day to survive, so you know to some extent, things like Extinction Rebellion come from a position of privilege. I totally agree with what they’re trying to do, but it’s got to come from below as well. The extent of poverty in this country is just unbelievable and pretty much unrecorded.
It’s actually relevant to me, this because, over the course of the last 30 years, I have done all sorts of lectures and talks to young people. And when I think about when I went to college – which is where I met Malcolm McLaren – I went to college with no 0-levels at the age of 16 and got a grant. When you think about what happened to education since then, you now have to pay nine thousand pounds a year, you know it’s unbelievable. Things like education were so fought for by early socialists and others and it’s unbelievable what we’ve done to education, it’s so relevant to what’s happening with the environment, I think. I know how they cut things like art and music and drama out of the syllabus in schools and you know they made schools including our primary schools competitive, and examinations, just awful. Education should all be about caring for your planet and caring for your fellow human beings. And it needs a complete re-think of education to make things okay.
When I was working at Suburban Press, which was a community press, I mean it’s so important because the look of it, the look of punk came out of what I was doing at the Suburban Press. And we were actually doing stickers, putting them up wherever we could, particularly in West End and Oxford Street was a sticker saying ‘Last Days’ (GS Artists: this graces the GS entrance for the show), a free sale going on here because the world’s running out of raw materials. We also did a sticker saying ‘This week only the store welcomes shoplifters’. I’ve been fighting on that whole campaign about the environment, it goes way back. We think it’s a new phenomenon but people have been fighting for it for hundreds of years. William Blake…
GS Artists: Well, indeed. I went to the Tate exhibition. Did you go to the exhibition in London?
Jamie Reid: No, I haven’t.
GS Artists: It was stunning.
Jamie Reid: I totally love Blake, I have such an empathy with him as well. It wasn’t really until the 1920s that anyone really got to know about him.
GS Artists: The Tate exhibition, I was literally rendered speechless. It was overwhelming. It was so beautiful and profound. I came out of it with my kids and we were all standing around in shock.
Jamie Reid: That happened to me with an exhibition that I went to see in Liverpool and there is so much unknown about art history…a woman artist called Leonora Carrington. She actually was born into the English aristocracy at the beginning of the 20th century, rebelled, hated it, ran away to Paris, where she totally fell head over heels with Max Ernst. And they had a fantastic relationship but because of the Nazis getting in and taking over in France they moved down to Spain, and I don’t know if Max Ernst got captured or something happened to him but they got split up. She ended up in a mental home in Spain but one of the doctors there took an incredible liking to her and he was Mexican, and he took her back to Mexico and in Mexico she is regarded as an incredibly important artist. She did fifty years of absolutely work there and it’s only recently here she has got any recognition. Which is just so true of so many women artists as well but her work just blew me away, it was fantastic.
The same with Blake, I went to the Tate at Millbank when I was about 15, 16 and it just blew me away along with Jackson Pollock anyway.
GS Artists: A good combination! One of my towering muses is William Burroughs. And of course, there is a sort of lateral line to be drawn if you want to draw one between something like Burroughs and Gysin cut up and then what became your dominant style, or at least the one year the most famous for, in my humble opinion. I have a wonderful Burroughs quote that I’m going to then supply a question to: “Out of the closets and into the museums, libraries, architectural monuments, concert halls, bookstores, recording studios and film studios of the world. Everything belongs to the inspired and dedicated thief…. Words, colors, light, sounds, stone, wood, bronze belong to the living artist. They belong to anyone who can use them. Loot the Louvre! A bas l’originalité, the sterile and assertive ego that imprisons us as it creates. Vive le vol-pure, shameless, total. We are not responsible. Steal anything in sight.” Always endearing, Burroughs!
Jamie Reid: (Laughs) Very Situationist!
GS Artists: No kidding. So, what came to mind when I was reading about your response in 2009 to Damien Hirst threatening an art student with copyright infringement: Are you content to have your own work taken, remade, stolen, exploited and appropriated?
Jamie Reid: But I just think it’s so inevitable. My heart is in the right place. And I just, initially with the whole Brit Art thing, I took great exception to people like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin saying they were inspired by punk, kinda like they were sort of radical and the whole idea, you had Saatchi and Saatchi, the advertising agency which was half responsible for getting Thatcher into power, taking a whole Thatcherite concept about ‘Everything is for sale’, and just making that the British art scene, turning it into a commodity. And I just see say them as Thatcher’s spawn, I can’t stand it. It’s a complete sort of…I talked to Jane (Simpson) about this. There’s such a monopoly on the art scene here between critics, leading artists, gallery owners, there is a whole social network that you might have to become part of to get any recognition. It’s unbelievable.
GS Artists: The commodification of art has become a disease.
Jamie Reid: One of the things that had a great effect on me was being in Liverpool when it was City of Culture and Liverpool always has and probably always will have an incredible underground and alternative art scene that no longer got a look-in when it was City of Culture. They are prepared to spend 80,000 pounds to get Tracey Emin to stick a sparrow on a pole. And I said, What the fuck! And Jonathan Meades, he did a documentary around that time about the history of Cities of Culture starting in Bilbao. And he’s quite interesting, Meades, because you can’t really put a finger on his politics because he’s quite sort of his own man really. But he started in Bilbao and said from his perspective, he went to every City of Culture, and so what this actually meant, it’s moving all the working class out, tidying up the city centers, using it and art as a means of creating , shopping malls, expensive restaurants, hotels. And he just went through city by city and it’s certainly true that happened in Liverpool.
GS Artists: There was a very interesting documentary on Channel 4 years ago about how the city centers are designed now, they call it “cookie-cutter”. They’re all identical and they found that all the major stores, for example, we’re all in the same places, in relationship to each other. It was all this kind of surreal replication.
Jamie Reid: And they all look the same.
GS Artists: Obviously intentional, some sort of subliminal drug they’re administering, very strange in any case.
Jamie Reid: That’s very interesting with that whole Situationist thing, which in many ways came out of a critique of the 20th century, well, most architecture presupposes people’s functions within those buildings. And someone said, it’s interesting now even more so, but everyone’s scared when they walk through a city center, never looking up above shop level, everything at the shop level, everything; advertising, shop windows and how people should look up and see what the buildings really are. It’s even worse now when people are all looking at, talking on their phones and tablets. It’s unbelievable.
GS Artists: The dominance of people looking down at their mobile phones has pretty much destroyed much hope of anyone looking up again. That opportunity may be gone forever.
Jamie Reid: I’ve lost someone recently that I loved and work with, a Russian computer artist called Alexei Blinov who died quite recently of cancer, and Alexei, I’ve done projects with Alexei that are totally mind-blowing. He’s one of those people, like he’s come from the future. He’s got amazing radicalised ideas about computers and I did a lot of laser work with him where I did my drawing. He’s been immersed in…this is something that’s going to become quite big news, and in fact it has in Europe already. It’s a Russian film called DAU, which hasn’t opened in Britain yet, but it will, which is interesting in itself. But, Alexei at one point, I mean, he was a computer genius. And he was working with some of the top hackers, I think they were actually Serbian, and they signed him up and told Alexei, throw your computer out the window, get rid of your mobile. And he said why? He said because they’re an alien interjection into our technology, an alien force which is going to eventually take us over by taking, by obliterating all non-use of them so the whole world becomes utterly dependent on them. And even if it’s not true it’s a great science fiction story!
I was pretty much brought up in a sort of spiritual, Druidic background through my family for three generations now and there was always this notion that…I was actually going to do a project with Alexei about it, about the crystals and quartz and stones, particularly in stone circles having memory and certain dance rituals and chanting could evoke the memory of the ancestors, you can actually communicate with your ancestors. And in this country, there is an amazing writer called Nigel Kneale who wrote The Quatermass Experiment, which are just fantastic in themselves, brilliant science fiction stories. He did a BBC series called Stone Tapes, and what I loved about Kneale is he had a great sense of mischief and satire, it was about a really trendy new type sort of graphic design advertising company that was absolutely all the whiz with the first computers, and they decided to get away from it all and move out of London into the countryside. They moved into this big old house in the middle of the Yorkshire Moors – typical, it’s always the Yorkshire Moors – and all their computers started playing up till eventually a few episodes on, people started appearing, ghosts started appearing. And his whole thing then that the building, the stone, had memory. Very interesting. There is so much hidden science we don’t go into.
GS Artists: Crystals have remarkable properties, incredible properties. And, actually, my next question is about this autobiographical film you’re working on with Julian Temple, I understand, about your Druid…
Jamie Reid: Hopefully.
GS Artists: In any case, the general public might be intrigued that you of all people – the famous “punk rock artist” – is a Druid or has Druid heritage. Can you elaborate on your spiritual context and the film project?
Jamie Reid: I don’t know, I mean, it’s only surprising because of the way we analyse and criticise everything. Because, if you think of William Blake, he was political, but he was very spiritual. And there’s a whole tradition in this country that’s completely unrecorded of that. My great uncle, George Watson MacGregor Reidwas head of the Druid order, but he totally immersed himself in the first health foods and things like homeopathy. It’s interesting that people scorn homeopathy, but the Royal Family uses homeopathy and I’ve just never seen it as a problem. I was brought up with a sort of, in a way, it was the Druid tradition, and it wasn’t much more than a complete love of nature and the planet. But I was dragged off at the age of seven on the Aldermaston marches, my parents were great campaigners for nuclear disarmament. It’s only now that some of the truth is coming out about art, even in terms of let’s say American abstract art. A classic example is Mondrian. Mondrian, as we conceive him was invented by postmodern 1920s critics who came up with the term postmodern. Everyone regards him as a painter who did all these geometric colours, shapes and squares and rectangles. Half his work was unseen, he was a Theosophist, he did this massive big triptych of three goddesses. And he was actually using art, he wanted to get to really simplistic ways to create pure energy. He wasn’t going in as a sort of industrialist or postmodern artist at all and so much about our art criticism that is so fucked up like that. You had Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophists in New York, she had a massive influence on American art, even up to Jackson Pollock and it’s only just coming out, these sorts of things.
GS Artists: It’s very interesting the Theosophist connection. I was a very, very keen student and practitioner of Krishnamurti’s teaching, so I know about Theosophy and Blavatsky and the history of Theosophy. Strange, because I was talking to a friend about Blavatsky a couple of days ago, but that’s the universe for you. Let’s face it, everything always happens before it happens. You did touch on the young British artists, God help us and so on, which brought a question to my mind: in your interview in the Guardian a couple of years ago about Hirst and Emin for example, you said there’s nothing remotely shocking about what they do, which I agree with. So where is the cutting edge of art? Does it have one now or is there no future for art?
Jamie Reid: I mean, there’s probably great art that we don’t know about happening worldwide.
GS Artists: True, so true.
Jamie Reid: Things that have had a great influence on me, I’m Scottish, early Celtic art, Aboriginal art, things like that, and it’s only when you really understand the true nature of this sort of art, that it’s full of great love for the planet and nature. I saw a documentary about Captain Cook about a year ago now. And, one, it was interesting because he was completely mad. He was an absolute mad man, loved the cat-o’nine-tails punishment and all sorts of stuff like that. But they asked an Aboriginal elder what he thought of Captain Cook and it just stopped me in my tracks, it’s so obvious but on a timescale, it was unbelievable. He said, look, we’re probably the oldest people, humans who have been on this planet maybe up to 60,000 years. We try to move at one with nature, we have a great love of nature, great respect for nature and the planet and the universe. Captain Cook arrives 250 years ago…and what the fuck has happened since? And it’s so true, I mean in such a short space of time to cause the absolute rape of this planet.
GS Artists: Possibly this is all about us going off the planet, eventually, back to where we came from – wherever that is – some of us, anyway, but that is speculation…
Jamie Reid: There’s so much stuff that surely, they are going to reveal soon. From all sorts of different directions, I really believe that Mars was populated once, maybe two or three times. There are beings that have been on this planet maybe all sort of times, which we don’t know about. Eventually the truth has got to come out.
I used to know a top animator who worked for Spielberg, he was working on a project, believe it or not about the Arabian Nights that never got finished because of the politics of it. But anyway, Spielberg was convinced – he had personal conversations with Spielberg and Spielberg was basically saying there was a whole element of what he does which was to prepare people for things that might possibly happen.
GS Artists: As a huge fan of Close Encounters, I like to think that was based on true events or an outline of events. It’s prophetic. Even Gene Roddenberry who created Star Trek said very near his death, I can finally tell you that it’s based on contact I had with extra-terrestrials.
Jamie Reid: Interesting guy, isn’t he?
GS Artists: A visionary, he was doing important messaging to humanity if it would only listen for once but he tried anyways, and we shall see. Which is an interesting time to mention the first time I came to Britain, which was a great year to arrive as you will understand: 1977. It was just incredible in London at that time. And of course, you would have been part of that narrative that I experienced. Anything seemed possible, it was the most phenomenal atmosphere to drop into. In 2020, anything may still be possible and plausible, but what are the chief differences to you between that world in 1977 and the one we’re inhabiting now? And how, more importantly, is it impacting your work now?
Jamie Reid: I think there is more, far more control on people’s thoughts and actions than it’s ever been, which has gradually been chipping away since the 1970s. I also think I’ve had a really interesting time. I’ve been in a hotel for about a year now and I’ve got quite addicted to listening to BBC Radio 6 and even last year they had a whole lot of pre-recorded interviews of Malcolm McLaren and it’s been very odd laying here listening to Malcolm speak for an hour; I have forgotten how fucking brilliant he was, not just talking about punk. I also had the realisation that he and I had a complete trust of each other. He never questioned anything about any artwork I did, I never questioned any directions he was taking. I’ve kept very quiet from my end about that time. But I think the Pistols and, to some extent, punk wouldn’t exist without the political experiences me and Malcolm had in the late 60s and our understanding of Situationism and putting it into practice, and positioning it in popular culture, That’s what we tried to do. And I think getting God Save the Queen to number one in 1977 is proof of that.
GS Artists: The kind of relationship you described that you had with Malcolm McLaren reminds me of Burroughs and Gysin. The quasi-magical “Third Mind” creative process and bond.
Jamie Reid: Malcolm always claimed he had Aleister Crowley’s ring! Again with Malcolm, it’s only when you hear people from other situations talking about him, I mean, in my mind he is possibly one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. But you’re never going to get art critics being able to understand that because I heard people like New York rappers singing Malcolm’s praises, not saying he invented rap but saying if it wasn’t for him doing Buffalo Girls, it opened up the whole fucking picture for us. The same with the things he did in South Africa with African music with Trevor Horn, you get African musicians saying the same thing. What he did with opera and Madame Butterfly. To me every bit as important as the Pistols in many ways. But he’s not going to be seen like that.
GS Artists: The term for someone like that would be a Renaissance Man, he was a Renaissance Man of his time.
Jamie Reid: A great bullshitter.
GS Artists: Well, that always helps if you’re a Renaissance Man.
Jamie Reid: (Laughs) Told a great story.
GS Artists: He had his own powers in terms of propaganda certainly, no question about that, quite a genius, really. He played the British media and public like a violin.
Jamie Reid: With my Druid, aboriginal head-on it’s an awful thing to say but I almost think the planet has had enough of us. You know: You’ve had your chance, you blew it.
GS Artists: Humans are very vain. And we think due to ego that we’re the most important thing on the planet, which is where all the panic about the climate crisis and so on really comes from: we don’t want to die. The planet itself, it’s been around a long time, it’ll be around a lot longer, it will be fine whatever happens to us. I watched a Storyville documentary about Jonestown which was fascinating. They were saying within less than ten years, the entirety of Jonestown had been completely reclaimed by the jungle, and that’s just a microcosmic snapshot of the process. It’s humbling and comical.
Jamie Reid: There are all sorts of sides to work I’ve done every bit as important as the punk, agitprop work, and it’s funny you mentioning Jonestown because I’ve worked with a heavy metal band, who are half Dublin, half Glasgow, called The Almighty. They did an amazing record called Jonestown Mind and they’re one of those bands that could play to quarter million people in Brazil and hardly anyone has ever heard of them here. I did a whole album and a single project with them. I’ve also been working for getting on 15 years now integrally with a band called Afro Celt Sound System, which is a fusion of Irish, Scot, Welsh music and African music built on a realisation there is a common thread through them all. And that came out of a whole project I did, creating interiors of a recording studio in Shoreditch called The Strongroom. And it is was like being practical with magic. I’m involved at the moment doing a book with someone about magic and art…and I did a studio design that was totally based on the four elements. It was aligned with earth was north and fire was south, water was west and air is east and it was all using symbols and astrology and all sorts of stuff, purely to create a space that could encourage the making of sound and music. And it works. Another level, I’m quite a big fan of the Prodigy, and they used to use that recording studio. And Keith, the lead singer – he died recently – I was sending him all this bullshit about my beliefs and magic and spirituality. He said, Jamie don’t give me all that fucking bullshit! I said, why? He said, it’s just a brilliant space to work in, it just an uplifting space to work in and it was true, it is.
I suppose it links back to my beliefs in Situationism and the situation with cities and architecture. Buildings could be the most inspirational places; I have been quite involved with my painting about how you can use colour for healing and how you can use sound for healing. And there are all these fields we don’t know about. And on an almost frightening level it actually ties in with that almost complete disrespect for nature. Look at the number of words to do with nature that are falling out the dictionary now. And it’s like our analysis of horticulture and farming, it’s like, what is a flower and what is a weed. Most of the things we define as weeds are in fact healing weeds, plants that used for healing. We had things like Lungwort, and there’s so much of it. And it’s a lost art almost. Yeah, anyway, I’m rambling…
I told you that working with Alexei Blinov, a Russian artist, we were just immersed in starting a project which we were going to do together, which we actually got down on paper. And it was about how my paintings, Alexei was going to use and create computer machinery to actually turn my paintings into energy. And it was based on the physicist who worked in the 19th century. There’s another Victorian scientist who did some wild stuff and it’s such a shame to me that we never had a chance to do it. But we got it on paper. And it’s quite interesting. But anyway, that’s enough.
Please join us at GS Artists on Friday January 10th at 6 pm for the opening of our next Artist at Work project. Rhythm, a solo art show by local Swansea based artist and GS intern ‘Fraser’, explores the comfort of familiarity and altered memory. Depicting universally recognised forums and disrupting the familiar via syncopated rhythms of light and sound, utilising the inherent, faint, buzz of her contemporary medium.
The show includes LED installations, box television sculpture, video, mixed media sculptures adopting everyday commonplace materials, and UV sensitive drawings.
The show continues until January 17th. Open 12-4pm everyday except Sunday.
AbigailFraser is a twenty-year-old Welsh artist, currently studying a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art at UWTSD Swansea. Fraser’s artwork is an unreliable, dreamy, psychedelic exploration of memories appertaining to previous events. Her mixed media sculptures and installations evoke a response to light on the senses, projecting a sense of self and an inquisition of reality. Frasers’ work often contains simple LED drawings of universal forms, exploring how the energy of light permanently surrounds us all in a very personal manner. Endeavoring to harness this energy and penetrate our mass consciousness through her artwork, Fraser portrays a seemingly infinite space within the gallery interpreting the inherent attraction to light and being human. In September of 2019 Fraser worked as Artist in Residence at The University of Rio Grande, Ohio.
Download the full Craig Wood In Conversation with Fiona Banner PDF here.
Following is a section of one of the studio conversations recorded by the artists and transcribed at their discretion. The venue was Bethel Chapel (Craig’s studio) on April the 7th, 2019.
Craig Wood These are these early polythene water pieces that I made.
Banner Oh yeah, you were talking about them.
CW Which kind of put me into the installation world, using architecture as
the context. They mirrored the format of the floor.
FB Where is that?
CW That’s in the crypt of
St. George’s Church in
FB Wow! That was way before you had the chapel?
CW Yeah. So, I’ve always had a
little bit of a sort of atheistic love of ecclesiastical buildings. That was a
sort of breakthrough piece, because from being an object-maker at college I
then used architecture as a context.
FB It’s very beautiful.
What is that material?
CW It’s just ordinary
wrapping polythene – like the stuff you
get poly bags made from. It’s very iconic.
FB But what have you done with it to make it solid?
CW I’ve heat-sealed it.
It’s full of water so it’s not solid, it’s liquid, with a stain in it.
FB How amazing! It looks beautiful.
CW And then I removed the stain, because I realised it was much more about
these two materials. A kind of so-called organic, so-called natural material…
like synthetic and non-synthetic.
CW That was Modern Medicine –
show after Freeze.
FB That was the big kind of BritArt… was that the thing that Damien
[Hirst] organised that was like the beginning of that whole scene?
CW Freeze preceded this, which kind of kicked it BritArt off; Modern
Medicine kind of consolidated it. This was in a biscuit factory (appropriately enough).
When I see this image, I think of the smell of custard creams, because that’s where they used to make custard creams. This
was now reduced to a kind of conversation between plastic and water. At the end
it was pumped out and the plastic was recycled. It’s kind of very ephemeral.
FB And that was part of your thinking around the piece from the top – that it would disappear back into its natural
state at the end?
CW Yeah. I think it was very much like, I was interested in the…
CW I was quite a conceptualist. I quite liked the political side of
conceptual art, that it was non-marketable – or at least difficult to market.
FB And to then reconstitute the materials at the end…
CW Yeah, you just return back: the water goes down the drain; the plastic
goes back to the company I bought it from, who could re-melt it and re-use it.
But I wasn’t like anti- the
other artists in the show. I was thinking they do what they do; I do what I do.
I wasn’t extremely militant about it,
that was just the way I was wanting work to be: ephemeral, site-specific.
FB But I think a lot of people use the word ‘ephemeral’ but they don’t go so far as to actually disappear the materials
back into their natural source at the end. So that’s a very strong narrative around the work, a very
strong attitude towards ephemerality. It’s beautiful. Could you walk on that?
CW No, no. It was really fragile. So it had a lot of contradictions to
what we think of as sculpture as well. Kind of more like ephemeral dressmaking
the way it was made, because it was more like a stitching process with heat
FB Did you make it yourself?
FB Wow! If you made that now would it mean something different?
CW Hmm… yeah, I think so. I
don’t think I really understood or
wanted to understand everything about it. At this stage it was still exciting
me as to, ‘Wow! I’m making this work. I don’t really know it, but I’m intrigued by it.’ I made maybe ten of these in different venues until I
realised it was sort of repeating itself. Then I just stopped forever. And each
time I made it I would kind of understand other aspects to it.
FB Would you remake it now if the right opportunity came up?
CW Part of me doesn’t want to.
FB Why? Because it’s a hassle?
CW Well, it’s a hassle that
kind of going back. But then having said that, we’ve just been at the Laugharne Weekend – musicians for example don’t have any problem about playing their old sixties
hits. And why not?
FB And what joy it is!
CW What joy it is. And why deny yourself that? I’ve always wanted to be going on and on, and move on
and on, sort of restlessly looking for new excitement in art. But maybe I’ve reached a point where I will recap.
FB Would be nice to see that. But I’m just thinking that now we’ve all got to think
about what an object means, what substance is, what material is, because the
planet’s sinking and, you know, there’s a next generation. So, it’s quite prescient work in that regard. And to
me, looking at it now, it speaks to some of those things. But those things were
obviously not on the agenda at the time for the common man.
CW They were around but they weren’t as mainstream as they are now (or should be now).
FB We didn’t realise about
global warming and stuff like that so much. Or did you?
CW Yeah, I did. Because I remember in Edinburgh being really interested in… when I was young being interested in what was
called the Ecology Party which was pre-Green Party. I remember when I was at
school discussing with my mates their policy of having zero economic growth and
thinking how exciting that was, and how you could make things better – that you could make better cars, better
everything, better jobs – but you wouldn’t be obsessed with the notion of constant
FB So it’s anti-capitalist
CW Yeah, there’s a lot of that in
it. Or at least a really serious desire to fundamentally reform capitalism.
FB What’s it called?
CW I was just about to say… I was just about to
come out with a Marxist quote. It’s not called anything;
they were all untitled.
FB Okay. What’s the Marxist quote?
CW I don’t know!
FB [Laughs] Add that one in later. Well it’s very exciting to see… I mean my god they’re beautiful!
CW They were sort of a really… they could burst like that. It was like
putting a pin next to a balloon, it was almost tempting its own demise.
FB Is it always moving as well in some way?
CW If you touched it you would have a ripple bouncing backwards and forwards
CW And so they’re cut to almost
the exact format of the slabs…
CW So the format of all these works are sort of determined by builders.
FB Yeah, who in turn are informed by the engineering…
CW Yeah, and the practicality of how much concrete you can cast…
FB How often you need a pillar…
CW How wide is the linoleum? – this little annoying cut.
FB So what are we looking at here? Because they are almost invisible these
CW This was a piece at Laure Genillard’s gallery on Foley Street.
FB I wondered if it was – I sort of
recognised that floor.
CW So it’s like three big
slabs with that one. Again using the format of the floor.
FB And does that create an impasse? Because it’s then an area that you can’t enter.
CW Exactly, yeah. Again this became much more of a sort of minimalist
work, whereas the other ones had much more sort of poetic and phenomenological interpretations, as
it became very cold in the gallery. I didn’t do many in galleries; I didn’t think they really worked. That was in Castello di
Rivara in Italy – thousands of
terracotta tiles going through this doorway into the back. You couldn’t get into these rooms – some secret rooms that you could only see through the
FB Really? So, you made the installation in rooms where it couldn’t really be seen?
CW Exactly. And it went through the whole floor of this castle. I put some
ladders against the walls so from the outside you could peer in.
FB Oh, how lovely! I guess invisibility/visibility is sort of embedded in
the project at large anyway. I mean water is this thing that is not…
CW I’ll move on a bit. I
used to work as an archaeological draughtsman, and in-between doing these
installations I would do archaeological drawings of everything I was throwing
out, every plastic object.
CW So that’s like a little
FB That’s very satisfying.
CW So it’s dot drawing.
These are lines of dots.
FB Is this a physical drawing made with pencil?
CW Yeah, with Rotring.
FB Oh my god, the beloved Rotring.
CW This was a little piece I dug up. All of this stuff’s really been dug up because I’ve been doing this publication. I haven’t looked at any of this for years. So this is a
piece I found that must have been a trowel. This is a Superdrug bleach bottle.
So these were based on archaeological and architectural drawings… both jobs.
FB How do you make the dots so uniform?
CW It’s almost like a
meditation… to get my breathing
right before I start.
FB My god! That’s incredible!
Because the spacing is so uniform as well.
CW I got better at it as well, actually.
FB Is this better? Is this not better?
CW No, no. I got to the point where I got ridiculously… What I tried to
do was to record something in the most caring way of an object that gets the
least care culturally, the thing that’s in the bin after one second.
FB Did you show these alongside the water installation?
CW No. They were kind of another body of work that I introduced later,
once I’d stopped the installations.
FB Quite cool that it’s actually going to
be seen alongside in the book, isn’t it?
CW Yeah, I know. It’s going to be incredible
FB Also, as I said before, I’m having to go back
and look at all this after me kind of shutting it out. ‘Next context, next project’, you know? So now in my mind it’s all sort of mixed up for the first time, because it’s all been dug out to be collated and cleaned
and classified and published. These are holes in
FB Now this work I have seen.
CW You might have seen that. This is Laure Genillard’s gallery. She’s down there. Remember that?
FB Yeah, I once had a drawing of a Chinook helicopter like there on that
CW Yeah. That was probably the first time I saw your…
FB It was folded up like a map. I remember delivering it and it was A4
size and Laure was like, ‘What the hell? I
thought you were bringing me a like A0 drawing?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I am’, and unfolded it. That’s beautiful. So,
tell me about the number.
CW These are the
numbers… that’s probably the code
that’s on the bottom of one of
these bottles. It’s like
manufacturers’ code, manufacturers’ language, that we don’t know what it means. They do… some batch numbers.
It’s ubiquitous but it’s not our business to know, as it were.
FB That is quite scary in a way.
CW It is! And it’s kind of funny
that we’ve never challenged it or
enquired. I remember phoning up a few times to ask what these numbers meant and
was treated with massive suspicion. What does ‘UN-3H1’ mean? I still don’t know to this day.
FB What does it mean? What does it mean in
terms of the dent in the world and the contribution to the world? It’s highly relevant, but it’s all part of the invisible shit that we don’t look at or think about.
CW Yeah, sort of multinational stuff. And we’re probably putting these things on our bodies and in
our bodies. They’re very intimate
some of these products: cleaning things and deodorants, and air fresheners I
used a lot of.
FB Yeah, I remember that.
CW Isn’t it funny, you know, you mentioning that drawing and folding maps? And looking at your work yesterday at the Laugharne weekend and seeing sort of connections with things that I was doing at the same time. But at the time I thought everybody was completely different. But now looking back I see sort of Rachel Whiteread’s work or Marcus Taylor’s, and I think, ‘Oh yeah, we were all kind of very connected’.
FB There were concerns to that generation we weren’t aware of.
CW I didn’t see it at the
time. Yeah, I thought everybody was working in their own unique ways. It’s quite reassuring that, that things were
connected. But I didn’t see it at the
FB Yeah, it’s quite a privilege to be in it for long enough and to be able to look back and see that.
Craig Wood was born in Edinburgh in 1960 and has been based in South Wales since 1982, where he initially worked as a draughtsman for Dyfed Archaeological Trust.
He completed a Foundation Diploma at Dyfed College of Art,
Carmarthen before studying a Fine Art BA at Goldsmiths College, London, in the
Wood was a part of the initial Young British Artists generation, exhibiting in shows such as
Modern Medicine. His practice explores the spectrum of site specificity and
Wood has been a recipient of the DAAD residency in Berlin and is a former Gregory Fellow with the University of Leeds. He has exhibited widely within the UK and abroad.
Currently he has a fractional post as Senior Lecturer in
Conceptual Art at Swansea College of Art, UWTSD and continues to exhibit widely
both nationally and internationally.
Born 1966, Merseyside, England
Fiona Banner aka The Vanity Press explores gender,
collections, and publishing through a practice spanning forms as varied as drawing,
sculpture, performance, and moving image. Her early work took the form of ‘wordscapes’
or ‘still films’ – blow-by-blow accounts written in her own words of feature
films, (whose subjects range from war to porn) or sequences of events. These
pieces evolved into solid single blocks of text, often the same shape and size
as a cinema screen.
Banner later turned her attention to the idea of the classic,
art-historical nude, observing a life model and transcribing the pose and form
in a similar vein to her earlier transcription of films. Often using parts of
military aircraft as the support for these descriptions, Banner juxtaposes the
brutal and the sensual, performing an almost complete cycle of intimacy and
alienation. Whilst her current work encompasses performance, sculpture, drawing
and installation, text is still at the heart of Banner’s practice. In 1997 she
started her own publishing imprint The Vanity Press, which has been the
backbone of her work ever since. Banner toys with the snobbery inherent in the
title by publishing posters, books, objects and performances that deploy a
playful attitude and utilise pseudo grandeur.
Banner came to prominence in the 1990s with her
wordscapes, written transcriptions of iconic films retold in her own words. THE
NAM (1997) is a 1,000 page book that details, scene-by-scene, six Vietnam
War films — including Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now — in such
a way that they blur into each other. The outcome is, in the artist’s
words, the literary equivalent of a “gutting 11 hour supermovie”.
In a recent collaboration with the Archive of Modern
Conflict, Banner commissioned a Magnum photographer to take pictures of
London’s financial district as if it was a war zone. The resulting work
uses Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness as a filter through
which to read the tribal behaviour of those in the business of finance, an
environment of weary survivalism combining competitive trading floors, corporate
art collections, manic drinking cultures, luxury shopping and strip clubs.