Interview by Madeleine Morley
With the Rare Earth sculptures and the accompanying websites, you’ve created a fictitious world that mirrors our own. Why did you decide to create such an all-encompassing fiction that extends into realms beyond the gallery? And are the sculptures catalysts for the stories, or do the stories put the sculptures into context?
A common criticism, especially of Art which involves the internet and other modes of viewership or context is that it can fail to engage a first time viewing gallery audience leaving them lost with the feeling that the work is somewhere else. I think my work is caught in a tension between taxonomy, logocentric presentations and their opposites, say modes of presentation which avoid categorical reductionist outputs and become more indefinable, unnamable and ungraspable.
Do you see each sculpture as a separate work, or are they chapters in an overall piece?
They often end up being projects within projects within projects. The horizontal lines which you can see on my website separate my bodies of work into different periods. Right now I’m in the Energy Pangea / Rare Earth Sculpture Project period which is proving to be quite a wide time scale. Some Rare Earth Sculptures have separate pieces which form part of the sculptural system, for example the Darky Psy Energy Pack in Terbium and the handheld burial accessories in Thulium. They all form part of a whole but also act autonomously.
I’m interested in your use of corporate rhetoric and also your references to the New Age movement. What is the relationship between the two? (And how do you explore this relationship in your work?)
There is an emphasis on slick corporate post-minimalism interbred with late 90’s - early 00s era y2k paranoia, diy internet conspiracy room-full-of-crazy hyper-intensity homepages made by self-proclaimed ‘experts’ whilst being into all the latest brands and consumer tech. There’s a reason for this of course and it's probably generational circumstance. I grew up in small village in South West England, my Mum had all these books in the downstairs toilet on ancient aliens and government cover ups of UFO’s, my Nan suffered migraine with aura and would have celestial visions and was a remote healer, my parents had a business which sold hearing aids, they had a home office where the dial up internet was, AOL, laminator, corporate knickknacks sent to us by the large hearing aid companies. I would go to Bristol and buy Fila basketball trainers and kappa and adidas gear. As I get older I realise more and more the impact all of this had on me, I think living in a rural area made this all the more intense and I want my work to have a sense of urgency because I’m drawn to conspiracy and pseudoscientific thinking and brands and the latest products and the language around them, I think it’s very primal and I’m aware of that, so I try to present it whilst acknowledging my own irrational mind.
As well as being works of satire and parodies of research practises, your work is infused with a sense that art can open minds and expand ideas. How do you negotiate the tension between satire and optimism?
I started saying that my work was a parody of research practice because I wanted to be clear about what it’s really about, which is, at its core, experimenting with materials and forms. These materials are often informational, speculative, hypothetical, non-localised, emergent and fragmentary. I think it’s important that there is emphasis on this as a practice over say research and context, over concept also, because today all contemporary art is research led whilst also being conceptual and context driven, so I wouldn't want to privilege those things.
We live in strange times, we surely live in an age of uncertainty with many things to be optimistic and satirical about, many things to make us feel doom and dread and fear, or just jaded and not care at all. I feel high degrees of ambiguity and I try really hard to present the reality I see and feel. The projects often present themselves wearing the garb of context art or social-sculpture or art-activism or land art but it’s not clear whether it’s satirical or even convincing itself - I maintain it can be both, unsure of its position and have strange properties like cornflour mixed with water. I see all these modes as affectivity armour, the same way we can all use the readymade as a basic tool for operation, I’m using the abstract sign or agency that these older models carry as a material to be worked with, as a technology. New meaning is being created all the time or perceived and under the construction of what has been handed down.
The latest Rare Earth sculpture, Terbium, visually alludes to occultism, molecular structures, human biology and also sports wear. The music by GOCH is hypnotic. This sculpture seems more overtly dark and ambiguous than some of the others – could you tell me more about the concept behind the piece, and the role that sound plays?
This is the first project since 2010, and the first within the rare earth series that has no textual component. Its interesting that you ask this question because with all of the rare earth sculptures, if you want to know the concept behind the then piece the text is pretty much going to frame it for you, though the idea behind those texts is that it’s part of the work’s formal vocabulary and it programs its context, hopefully opening up a debate or connecting to other entities.
With the previous two sculptures before Terbium I started to experiment with different ways of formulating the textual component, like almost callously throwing words at it. Some words seems random and misplaced, others are very specific and integral to what I want the work to do. And then that formula pretty much broke down. Context is central to the way i’m working on these projects, so the role of the text was often to connect the object(s) to a wider system of relations - for instance, to what Timothy Morton termed Hyper Objects.
Terbium was very much a pattern based tautological exploration of connection and meaning that ended up becoming what it inevitably is, a consequence is that it’s quite dark and ambiguous. The first part I started with was the small mud figure (mud owl). Whilst visiting my parents who live near the Bristol Channel, I went to the beach and gathered the estuary mud and made that thing. Over a year or so I started thinking about building a megastructure for the mud owl which would act as a temple/palace/tomb to hold it, to honor it. The building of this structure is an exploration of Xavier Séguin’s project Eden Saga, dark forest psytrance and many of the things you mention ; alchemical formulas I’v been exploring since this whole project began and terbium utilised vibration resonance technology which spreads sound onto a surface. Working with Goch was a big part of the project in regards to forming context and meaning. So the outcome, I hope says a lot more than a text could express.
What rare earth element are you working on next, and can you tell me about the process of beginning a new piece?
Im working on a new project for Praseodymium which takes as its starting point a GCHQ document leaked by Edward Snowden called The Art Of Deception - Training For A new Generation Of Online Covert Operations. This is basically a workshop to train secret service personnel how to spread ambiguity, confusion and misinformation on the internet with the aim to disrupt certain groups or individuals who are enemies of the government, it’s essentially a PSYOP and harnesses how the internet already operates. I’m interested operations such as CIA agents who give false information to ufologists and groups which expend vast amounts of affective labour on creating fake ufo sightings, the shock doctrine, the recent situation with the Greece, the IMF and Eurozone, all of these things channeling into the realm of double, triple, quadruple bluffing and weird hysterias and collective psychosis. I want to push this, somehow, somewhere. Its early development.
I usually develop new work by having various things I’m thinking about or trying to incubate a particular strand and I start bringing them together into one hybrid organism, if some of those things i’m thinking about don’t work with or connect to the other things I’m thinking about then I usually put one thing aside and bring it back for the next project. If you dissect the work you can often see like three or four channels; Lanthanum is a good example where you have a table sculpture designed as a decorative corporate object for a mozzarella bar, The Centre for Youth Consciousness and the lanthanum present in the batteries of Toyota’s Prius hybrid car. Then the work is often about how these channels interact with each other and create new unexpected meanings and connections and with enough fusion reactions and hybridity they become less visible.