"This work and much of my research stems from my interest in the cargo cults Melanesia, a phenomenon of the mythic and scientific, this involved closed societies encountering Western culture and technology for the first time, a biblical event for such uncontacted groups."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practising artist and where did you study?
I’m only 21. So, I’ve not yet graduated from the BA course at Central Saint Martins, I’ll be finished there in a few weeks. Before that I was doing my foundation course at Bath, there I had a great tutor called Dave Hyde, who I think still teaches there. It must be difficult being a tutor during those early stages of an artist’s career, he was very kind and had a great sense of humour, I think a lot of what I do now still comes from the conversations we had together during those early stages.
Before that I painted landscapes, and that was where I discovered the joy of making images. When I began studying art at school all my other subjects dropped off, since then I haven't really strayed from that path.
Some of your work reminds us of big computer servers and/or control panels from sci-fi movies. Could you tell us about these installations/sculptures?
The two works you’re referring to are on display at the Degree Show at the moment. They’re both replicas, or a simulacrum. One, a copy of the chess computer named ‘Deep Blue’ (which also happens to be the title of the work) that beat Chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov in the 90’s, the other; a hallway from the interior of the Tantive IV ship from the opening scene of the first Star Wars movie.
My computer, ‘Deep Blue’, bears an uncanny resemblance to the original machine, it is however dissimilar in that it contains no computational power. The only electronics in the machine are the LEDs that blink sequentially underneath the perforated steel, implying sentience, they appear to be decoding a problem, a display of its thinking power. This is a very literal representation of what is called ‘black box technology’, ‘a usually complicated electronic device whose internal mechanism is usually hidden from or mysterious to the user’. A curious viewer might investigate the back of the sculpture, only to reveal the true nature of the object; this side has been neglected, the dense box is in fact hollow, MDF clad in perforated steel, and the LEDs are in fact christmas lights taped to the inside.
This work and much of my research stems from my interest in the cargo cults Melanesia, a phenomenon of the mythic and scientific, this involved closed societies encountering Western culture and technology for the first time, a biblical event for such uncontacted groups. Many of the natives constructed religions surrounding the comparatively god-like technology they encountered. Often they will imitate the behaviour of Westerners; some tribes erect giant wooden radio antennas into the heavens, in an attempt to summon the sacred ‘cargo’, just as their now absent visitors had done in order to receive the resources that the islanders now fetishise and covet. Just as the cargo cult radio antenna and wooden flightless aeroplanes have little hope of transmitting a signal or taking off, my computer gives the illusion that it has the capacity to think, yet it has no ‘internal mechanism’.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
A few weeks ago I picked up a book from my Mum’s bookshelf called ‘Naives and Visionaries’, most of the artists in the book aren’t too interesting, although one did stand out. Jesse Howard was his name, if you look him up you can learn all about him, he called himself Outlaw Howard. It’s hard to find much on him, but that which I can find is always refreshingly genuine and creative; he decorated his home and garden with hand painted signs, sometimes his own words, often they contained biblical and political references. The neighbours hated him so much they even tried to get him sectioned. This only seemed to spur him on though, they kept giving him a hard time and he kept painting signs, in photos you can see his whole front porch and garden are littered with them. He also renamed his homestead ‘Sorehead Hill’ (a great title for a work).
Also, recently I was reading a book on Duchamp and I learnt how he had one door hinged between the studio and the toilet, the result being that you can’t shut the door to the studio without the toilet door being open, and you can’t take a shit without the studio being wide open. This is something I wish I’d done, the art works I really like are those that are done in a single gesture, like this.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
Well, my studio is currently being used for the degree show, once that’s over it won’t be mine anymore. When it was a functioning studio I shared it with a great group of people; Central Saint Martins attracts unusual and fascinating individuals from all over the world, I only got to know a handful of these people (the course hosts over 150 students, so it’s hard to know everyone), but I hope to stay in touch with all those that I’ve spent time with.
Towards the end of the my time at CSM I was in the workshops more than the studio. Anything I wanted to make could be done in this one building. Early on I had considerable help from the technicians when it came building certain things, now I think I’m fairly competent when it comes to translating a drawing or 3D model into a tangible thing.
Where has your work been headed more recently?
The arrival of the end of the degree has had an impact on what I’m making, or not making. Recently the kind of decisions I’m making regarding work have become logistical rather than creative. Usually by the time I’ve finished making something I’ve lost interest in that thing, and these works end up being less successful, the few things I’ve made that have continued to provide me with intrigue are the only works I really like. This has become important in itself; the afterlife of a work, what happens once it has materialised and I’ve photographed it and published it, often this feels like drawing a line underneath it, and that’s not good. For example, last year I made a replica of the Odeon Cinema logo, just the first letter though. Formally I thought the letter and font worked as a sculpture, without the ‘DEON’ following that first letter it was uncannily familiar to most people (not Americans though, Odeon doesn’t exist in the states). It was over 2 metres in height, and in photos it gave the impression of being this dense, free standing monolith, the object itself is disappointingly fragile; the two pillars stand on the bottom part of the letter and they support the top arch, I never properly attached them so if you knocked it it would tumble over pretty easily. Like the IBM computer and the Tantive IV wall I’d neglected the back, which was left exposed, revealing the wooden structure inside. I was interested in this idea of the object itself becoming a kind of prop or stand in for the real thing, so I took it outside at night and did a photo shoot with it, the images I got from that became the work, the object itself sat in my backyard, where it lost all of its power.
How do you go about naming your work?
I once heard Glenn Brown say that naming his paintings allowed him to give a ‘tint’ to the work that it was otherwise lacking. The interviewer pressed him on a painting depicting a portrait of Rembrandt’s son titled ‘Joseph Beuys’, wondering why he’d chosen this title for a work that was so completely the opposite; kitsch and ephemeral, rather than serious, German and political. Glenn explained how this was exactly what the painting was missing, and if he gave it this name it would have everything. I haven’t made enough work to really play around with the titling of them in this way, with ‘Deep Blue’, the computer, it is the complete opposite in fact; the title of this work is the name given to the real computer by the scientists that made it. However, the replica of the Tantive IV interior is titled more ambiguously. The name ‘The Roach Motel’ came from an anecdote I heard about a friend who had brought back an insect killer from America, it was designed to attract bugs and trap and kill them in a small cardboard box disguised as a miniature motel. ‘The Roach Motel’ was the name of product and the tagline was ‘Roaches check in but they don't check out’. I heard this when I had just finished making that piece and I was searching for a name for a work that I’d frankly lost interest in, and this breathed new life into it.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
Currently I have an offer to study Sculpture at the RCA, if I can find the funding for that then I’ll be there for two years. Although it’s unlikely I’ll be able to find the money to do this, in which case I’ll stay in London and hopefully try and organise a studio for myself. I’m looking forward to slowing down my process a bit, for the last three years there’s been a lot of pressure to churn out something new every few months, I think this encourages the whole ‘drawing a line’ thing I mentioned. I’d like to think that if I was renting a studio and working to pay for it then anything I made in there would be done singularly and with the most care and attention.
Art school does that I think, forces you to condense processes down to fit the curriculum, there are plenty of works that I’ve had to move on from prematurely, before they’ve really had any time to develop or explain themselves. I rely partly on this, post-rationalisation that is. That’s not to say I go into the studio and make whatever I fancy that day then figure it out afterwards, there’s a process that comes before. But when it comes to the actual making of a work, I like that to take place in a different kind of mental state, where everything stays outside. I’d like whatever comes out of this place to have been generated as organically as possible, and that can sometimes be difficult if you have the weight of what you want/expect it to be at the back of your mind, what I want and what it really is, I like the idea of those being two different things.
All images courtesy of the artist
Interview published 01/06/17